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Words from GOD – Words to GOD

Be comforted, part 4-5, Archbishop Dr. Uwe AE.Rosenkranz

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ISAIAH 13–23

The Burdened Prophet
Whether you like it or not, history is on our side. We will bury you!”
The Premier of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev, made that statement to a group of Western diplomats on November 18, 1956. But Khrushchev is dead; and as I write these words, the Marxist system that threatened to bury the West is burying itself. Khrushchev’s boastful prophecy was not fulfilled.
Is there a pattern to history? Is anyone in charge? The British historian Edward Gibbon called history “little more than the register of crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind.” But the American missionary leader Arthur T. Pierson said that “history is His story.” Which one is right?
The Prophet Isaiah would stand with Pierson, for these eleven chapters are certainly evidence that God is at work in the nations of the world. In these chapters, the prophet reveals God’s plan not only for Judah but also for ten Gentile nations. President James Garfield called history “the unrolled scroll of prophecy,” and Isaiah unrolls the scroll for us to read.
World leaders need to learn the lesson that Nebuchadnezzar learned the hard way, that “the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses” (Dan. 4:25, NKJV). Paul made the same declaration to the Greek philosophers in Athens: “[God] determined the times set for [the nations] and the exact places where they should live” (Acts 17:26, NIV). Indeed, “history is His story.”
Isaiah called these prophetic declarations “burdens” (Isa. 13:1; 14:28; 15:1; 17:1; 19:1; 21:1, 11, 13; 22:1; 23:1). The Hebrew word means “to lift up.” The prophet was carrying a heavy weight because of the solemn nature of his message (Jer. 23:33). He was announcing judgments that involved the destruction of cities and the slaughter of thousands of people. No wonder he felt burdened!
1. Babylon (Isa. 13:1–14:23; 21:1–10)

The word “Babel” means “gateway to a god” and sounds like the Hebrew word balal, which means “confusion” (Gen. 10:8–10; 11:1–9). In Scripture, Babylon symbolizes the world system man has built in defiance of God. Jerusalem and Babylon are contrasting cities: One is the chosen city of God, the other the wicked city of man. The city of God will last forever, but the rebellious city of man will ultimately be destroyed (Rev. 14:8; 16:19; 17–18).
God musters His army (Isa. 13:1–5, 17–18). God is sovereign. He is able to call any army He desires, to accomplish any task He assigns. He can summon them with a whistle (7:18), or by using leaders to raise a banner, shout, and beckon to the soldiers (13:2). In this case, God is mustering the army of the Medes (v. 17; 21:2); and He calls them “My sanctified ones.” Even though they did not believe in Jehovah God, the Medes were set apart by God to do His holy work.
God punishes His enemies (Isa. 13:6–22). The city of Babylon was completely destroyed in 689 B.C. by Sennacherib and the Assyrian army, but it was rebuilt by Sennacherib’s son. In 539 B.C., Darius the Mede captured the city (Dan. 5:31), but he did not destroy it. In the centuries that followed, Babylon had its “shining moments,” but after the death of its last great conqueror, Alexander the Great, the city declined and soon was no more. Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled, for the city was not rebuilt.
But it is clear that Isaiah’s prophecy describes something more significant than the ups and downs of an ancient city. The prophets often began a message by focusing on local events, but then enlarged their vision to reveal something greater. Isaiah saw in the fall of Babylon a picture of “the day of the Lord” (Isa. 13:6, 9, 13), that time when God will pour out His wrath on the whole world (v. 11). The image of the woman in travail is used in Scripture to describe a time of judgment (v. 8; 21:3; 26:17; Jer. 6:24; Micah 4:9–10; Matt. 24:8, where “sorrows” is “birthpains”; 1 Thes. 5:3). Isaiah looked beyond that day to the day when the Babylonian world system would be destroyed (Rev. 17–18). Compare Isaiah 13:10 with Matthew 24:29; Joel 2:10; and Revelation 6:12–14; and see Jeremiah 50–51.
God delivers His people (Isa. 14:1–23). Isaiah warned that the kingdom of Judah would be taken into captivity by Babylon (5:13; 6:11–12; 11:11, where “Shinar” is Babylon; 39:6), and this happened in 586 B.C. Jeremiah prophesied that the Captivity would last for seventy years. Then Babylon would be judged and the Jews permitted to go home (Jer. 25:1–14). So, the capture of Babylon by Darius would be good news to the Jews; for it would mean the end of their exile and bondage.
The picture in Isaiah 14:1–23 is that of a mighty monarch whose pride brought him to destruction. This is what happened to Belshazzar when Darius the Mede captured Babylon in 539 B.C. (Dan. 5). Isaiah described the king’s arrival in sheol, the world of the dead, where the king’s wealth, glory, and power vanished. The dead kings already in sheol stood in tribute to him (Isa. 14:9), but it was all a mockery. Death is the great leveler; there are no kings in the world of the dead. “Lucifer” (v. 12) is Latin for “morning star” and suggests that this king’s glory did not last very long. The morning star shines but is soon swallowed up by the light of the sun.
The prophet saw in this event something far deeper than the defeat of an empire. In the fall of the king of Babylon, he saw the defeat of Satan, the “prince of this world,” who seeks to energize and motivate the leaders of nations (John 12:31; Eph. 2:1–3). Daniel 10:20 indicates that Satan has assigned “princes” (fallen angels) to the various nations so that he can influence leaders to act contrary to the will of God.
This highest of God’s angels tried to usurp the throne of God and capture for himself the worship that belongs only to God (Matt. 4:8–10). The name “Lucifer” (“morning star”) indicates that Satan tries to imitate Jesus Christ, who is “the bright and morning star” (Rev. 22:16). “I will be like the Most High” reveals his basic strategy, for he is an imitator (Isa. 14:14; 2 Cor. 11:13–15). Like the king of Babylon, Satan will one day be humiliated and defeated. He will be cast out of heaven (Rev. 12) and finally cast into hell (20:10). Whether God is dealing with kings or angels, Proverbs 16:18 is still true: “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (NKJV).
God announces the victory (Isa. 21:1–10). “The desert of the sea” is probably the area around the Persian Gulf. Isaiah uses the image of a “desert storm” as he describes the attack of the Assyrians against Babylon, which took place in 689 B.C. At that time, Babylon and Assyria were rival powers, although Assyria was stronger; and the nations in the Fertile Crescent hoped that Babylon would stop the advance of Assyria. Alas, Babylon fell to Assyria; opening the way for Assyria to sweep across the region in conquest.
Realizing the consequences of Babylon’s fall, the prophet experienced pain like a woman in travail (vv. 3–4) and felt crushed like grain in a mill (v. 10). Had this announcement referred to the fall of Babylon in 539 B.C., the Jews would have rejoiced; for it would have meant release from captivity. But in 689 B.C., Babylon’s defeat meant the destruction of the Northern Kingdom and the devastation of the Southern Kingdom. Note that Jeremiah (Jer. 51:8) and John (Rev. 14:8; 18:2) both adopted Isaiah’s words, “Babylon is fallen, is fallen!”
2. Assyria (Isa. 14:24–27)

The key word here is purpose. God is in control of the rise and fall of the nations as He works out His divine purposes in the world. Assyria was His tool to accomplish His purposes (10:5), and the day would come when God would judge Assyria (see vv. 5ff).
This judgment would take place in the land of Judah, and God would be the judge. Assyria invaded Judah during Hezekiah’s reign (701 B.C.), but God destroyed the army as it threatened to capture Jerusalem (37:36). God permitted Assyria to discipline Judah, but He would not allow the enemy to destroy His people.
3. Philistia (Isa. 14:28–32)

An Assyrian leader (“rod”; 10:15, 24) died, and the Philistines rejoiced that their enemy had been weakened. (Some students think this leader was Shalmaneser V.) But Isaiah warned them that their rejoicing was presumptuous; for the new king would be worse. Isaiah compared the dead Assyrian ruler to a snake that gave birth to an even worse serpent! “Weep, Philistine cities—you are doomed” (14:31, TLB).
Note in this prophecy that God had a special word of assurance for His own people, Judah. Even the poorest of the poor would have food and safety (v. 30), and Zion would be delivered from the enemy (v. 32; 37:36); but the Philistines would be wiped out by war and famine (14:30). The Assyrian army would come from the north like a great cloud of smoke (v. 31), and the gates of the great Philistine cities would not stop them.
The envoys (“messengers” in v. 32, KJV) of the other nations would ask what was happening, but the diplomatic news would focus on Judah and not on Philistia! God’s deliverance of Judah was the real news, not Assyria’s conquest of Philistia. We wonder if diplomats and news reporters in today’s media world would give God credit for a miracle of deliverance.
4. Moab (Isa. 15:1–16:14)

The Moabites were the product of Lot’s incestuous union with his daughter (Gen. 19:30–38) and were the avowed enemies of the Jews (Num. 25; 31; Deut. 23:3).
The plight of Moab (Isa. 15:1–9). Within three years (16:14), this prophecy against Moab would be fulfilled with great national lamentation. At least fourteen different references to lamentation occur in this chapter: weeping, wailing, baldness, sackcloth, crying out, etc. The people fled to their temples and prayed to their gods, but to no avail (15:2, NIV). Even a day of national humiliation did not stop Assyria from invading Moab and ravaging the land. Advancing armies often stopped up the springs and watercourses, and left the land in desolation (vv. 6–7). Where there was water in Moab, it was stained with blood, so great was the carnage (v. 9). How could the weak Moabites ever hope to defeat the great Assyrian lion?
The plea of Moab (Isa. 16:1–5). The one place the Assyrians could not conquer was Jerusalem (10:24–34). Though the Assyrian army entered the kingdom of Judah and did a great deal of damage to the land, it could not capture Jerusalem (chaps. 36–37). However, instead of fleeing to Mt. Zion, the Moabite fugitives fled south to the fords of the Arnon River and the “rock city” of Sela in Edom.
From Sela, the fugitives sent an appeal to the king of Judah to give them asylum from the enemy. But Isaiah warned them that it would take more than a request: They would need to submit to the king of Judah, which meant acknowledging the God of Judah. In that day, sending animals to a ruler was a form of paying tribute (2 Kings 3:4). Moab begged the leaders of Judah to give them refuge from the enemy, like a protecting rock on a hot day (16:3–4; see 32:1–2).
Isaiah was not impressed with the appeals of the Moabites. He called the Moabites extortioners, spoilers, and oppressors, and announced that the nation was destined to be destroyed (16:4). Why? Because they wanted Judah’s help, but they did not want Judah’s God. Verse 5 is definitely a messianic promise, pointing to the day when Messiah will reign in righteousness and mercy on David’s throne. But Moab would not submit; they wanted deliverance on their own terms.
The pride of Moab (Isa. 16:6–14). We can understand the pride of a city like Babylon (14:12–14), but what did the tiny nation of Moab have to boast about? Their pride kept them from submitting to Judah, and this led to their defeat. Their boasting would turn into wailing and their songs into funeral dirges. Moab would become like a vineyard trampled down and a fruitful field left unharvested. Isaiah 16:9–11 describes the prophet’s grief—and the Lord’s grief—over the destruction of Moab. “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked” (Ezek. 33:11). Isaiah could have rejoiced at the destruction of an old enemy, but instead, he wept (Prov. 24:17–18).
5. Damascus [Syria] and Ephraim [Israel] (Isa. 17:1–14)

These two nations were allied in their opposition to both Assyria and Judah (7:1–2), so the prophet spoke to both in one message. In 17:1–2, he warned Damascus, the capital city of Aram (Syria), that the city would be taken by the enemy. This occurred when the Assyrians conquered Aram in 732 B.C. Following their usual custom, the Assyrians deported many of the citizens, which left the land and cities deserted.
The fall of Damascus was a warning to Israel, the Northern Kingdom that had broken away from Judah and Judah’s God (1 Kings 12). The prophet used several images to describe Ephraim’s downfall: the destruction of the fortified cities (Isa. 17:3); the setting of the sun (v. 4a; “The glory has departed” [1 Sam. 4:19–22, NKJV]; the wasting away of a sick person (Isa. 17:4b); the gleaning of a small harvest (vv. 5–6); the decaying of a garden into a wasteland (vv. 9–11); the overflowing of a flood (vv. 12–13a); and the blowing away of chaff and tumbleweeds in a storm (v. 13b).
When judgment came, the people of Israel realized that their idols could not save them; so they turned to the Lord for help, but it was too late (Prov. 1:20–33). The nation was sick with sin and beyond recovery. Once the wind began to blow and the floods began to rise, the nation was without hope. In 722 B.C., Assyria conquered, and the kingdom of Israel was no more.
The emphasis in this section is on the God of Israel. He is the Lord of hosts (the Lord Almighty), who controls the armies of heaven and earth (Isa. 17:3). He is the Lord God of Israel (v. 6), who called and blessed Israel and warned her of her sins. He is our Maker, the Holy One of Israel (v. 7); He is the God of our salvation and our Rock (v. 10). How foolish of the Israelites to trust their man-made idols instead of trusting the living God (v. 8; 1 Kings 12:25–33). But like Israel of old, people today trust the gods they have made, instead of the God who made them; these include the false gods of pleasure, wealth, military might, scientific achievement, and even “religious experience.”
6. Ethiopia (Isa. 18:1–7)

The original text has “Cush,” a land that included modern Ethiopia, the Sudan, and Somalia. Isaiah called it “a land of whirring wings” (v. 1, NIV), not only because of the insects that infested the land, but also because of the frantic diplomatic activity going on as the nation sought alliances to protect them from Assyria. He pictures the ambassadors in their light, swift boats, going to the African nations for help. But God tells them to go back home (v. 2) because He would deal with Assyria Himself, apart from the help of any army.
In contrast to the frantic activity of men on earth is the calm patience of God in heaven (v. 4) as He awaits the right time to reap the harvest of judgment. Assyria is pictured as a ripening vine that will never survive, for God will cut it down (v. 5). In verse 6, Isaiah describes the feast that God spreads for the birds and beasts, the corpses of 185,000 Assyrian soldiers (37:36). See Revelation 14:14–20 and 19:17–21, where these same two images are used for end-time judgments.
Instead of rushing here and there with diplomatic plans, the Cushites will go to Jerusalem with gifts for the Lord and for the king of Judah (Isa. 17; 2 Chron. 32:20–23). When the messianic kingdom is established, the Gentile nations will go to Mt. Zion to worship the Lord and bring Him gifts (Isa. 60:1–7).
7. Egypt (Isa. 19:1–20:6)

The late Dr. Wilbur M. Smith, a leading prophetic scholar, wrote that Isaiah 19 “contains the most important prophetic utterance concerning Egypt in all of the Old Testament” (Egypt in Biblical Prophecy, p. 77). It is a remarkable prophecy, for Isaiah declares that the three enemies—Egypt, Israel, and Assyria (modern Iraq)—will one day be united in worshiping the Lord and sharing His blessing!
God will judge Egypt (Isa. 19:1–15; 20:1–6). This prophecy was probably fulfilled in 670 B.C. when Egypt was conquered by Esar-haddon, king of Assyria. The Assyrian conquest proved that the many gods of Egypt were powerless to help (19:1), and that the mediums and wizards were unable to give counsel (v. 3). In the days of Moses, God had triumphed over the gods of Egypt (Ex. 12:12; Num. 33:4) and the wisdom of the Egyptian leaders; and He would do it again.
But that is not all. The forty-two provinces of Egypt, called “nomes,” would be thrown into disarray and start fighting each other (Isa. 19:2). The Nile River, the source of Egypt’s economy, and the streams and canals of the land, would all dry up; and this would put farmers, fishermen, and cloth manufacturers out of business (vv. 5–10). For centuries, the Egyptians were respected for their wisdom; but now the princes and counselors would not know what to do (vv. 11–13). Instead of walking a straight path, the nation was led astray by leaders who were as dizzy as a drunken man staggering around in his vomit (vv. 14–15). Not a very pretty picture!
In these days of almost instant communication and of rapid transportation, when in a matter of minutes nations can come to the brink of war, we forget that God is still sovereign and can do whatever He pleases in the affairs of men. God destroyed everything that the Egyptians trusted—their political unity, their economy, religion, and wisdom—and made them an easy target for the Assyrians. When the international news is frightening and you wonder where God is, read Psalm 2 and Acts 4:23–31; and take hope.
Isaiah 20 is a footnote to this prophecy and reveals that Isaiah did some unique things to get the attention of the people of Judah. One faction wanted to make an alliance with Egypt and Cush, but Isaiah warned them that such allies were destined to fall. For three years, the prophet dressed like a prisoner of war, wearing only a loincloth, to demonstrate his message. The pro-Egyptian party in Judah gave the prophet as much trouble as the pro-Egyptian people did who journeyed with Moses (30:1–7; 31:1–3; Num. 11; 14).
God will save Egypt (Isa. 19:16–25). The phrase “in that day” is used five times in this passage and refers to the last days when Jesus Christ shall establish His messianic kingdom on earth. Some remarkable changes will take place. Egypt will fear Israel (vv. 16–17) and become converted to the worship of the true God (vv. 18–22). They will trust Him, not their idols, and pray to Him in times of need. This is a promise that vast numbers of Muslims in Egypt will one day turn to the Lord and be saved!
These spiritual changes will bring about a great political change: Israel, Egypt, and Assyria (modern Iraq) will cooperate and enjoy the blessing of the Lord! They will not only receive God’s blessing, but they will all be a blessing to the other nations (vv. 23–25). Once again, Isaiah picks up his “highway” theme to emphasize the unity of these three nations (see 11:16). What a wonderful day it will be when there is peace in the Middle East because the nations have bowed before the King of kings! We must continue praying, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20).
8. Edom (Isa. 21:11–12)

Dumah and Seir are names for Edom (Num. 24:18). Isaiah moved one letter in the Hebrew word “Adom” and created “Duma,” which means “stillness, silence.” It was his way of saying, “Edom will be silent; it will be no more.” The Edomites were descendants of Esau, whose nickname was “red [Edom]” (Gen. 25:21–34). Edom was a rugged land of red sandstone; her people were bitterly hostile to the Jews (Ps. 137:7).
Isaiah was the watchman on the wall (Isa. 21:6; Ezek. 3:16–21; 33:1–11); and he was asked, “What of the night?” What time of night was it? The advance of the Assyrian army had brought fearful darkness to the nations; and Edom wanted to know if there was any hope, any light. The prophet’s reply was brief but adequate, with both information and invitation. Morning was coming, because Assyria would be defeated by God in the fields of Judah (Isa. 37:36). But the morning would not last, for Babylon would take Assyria’s place and bring further darkness to the nations.
Then Isaiah added an invitation consisting of three simple words: inquire, return, come. “Seek the Lord,” urged the prophet. “Turn from sin and return to Him. Come to Him, and He will receive you!” Only a brief “day of salvation” would dawn, and they had better use the opportunity.
Edom did not heed the invitation. The nation was taken by Babylon, then by the Persians (who changed the name to “Idumea”), and finally by the Romans. The battle between Esau and Jacob was carried on by the Herods, who were Idumeans. After the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, Edom vanished from the scene.
9. Arabia (Isa. 21:13–17)

The prophet saw the caravans of the Arabian merchants from Dedan leaving the trade route and hiding in the thickets because of the invasion of the Assyrian army. Food and water were brought to the fugitives by people from Tema, an oasis town. Eventually the caravan had to flee, for how could the merchants’ slow animals compete with the Assyrian cavalry or their bows with the invaders’ weapons? Like a laborer, God had a “contract” to fulfill (16:14). Within a year, the pomp and glory of the Arabian tribes would be gone.
10. Judah and Jerusalem (Isa. 22:1–25)

The people of Judah were behaving like their pagan neighbors, so it was only right that Isaiah should include them in the list of nations God would judge. Yes, in His mercy, the Lord would deliver Jerusalem from the Assyrian army; but He would not deliver them from Babylon. Isaiah pointed out two particular sins that would cause Judah to decline and ultimately go into Captivity in Babylon.
The unbelief of the people (Isa. 22:1–14). While some parts of this description may seem to apply to the Assyrian invasion in Hezekiah’s day (chaps. 36–37; 2 Kings 18–19; 2 Chron. 32), the primary reference is to the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. In Isaiah’s day, Jerusalem was a “joyous city” as people engaged in all kinds of celebrations (Isa. 5:11–13; 32:12–13). The popular philosophy was, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we shall die” (22:13; 56:12; 1 Cor. 15:32). But the prophet did not participate in the parties, for he saw a day coming when death and destruction would reign in the City of David. The people went up to the housetops, but the prophet went down into one of the three valleys around Jerusalem; and there God gave him a vision. Visions and valleys often go together.
He saw people dying, not from battle wounds, but from famine and disease (Isa. 22:2). He saw the nation’s rulers fleeing in fear as the enemy army approached (vv. 3–7; 2 Kings 25:1–10). The people would do everything possible to prepare for a long siege (Isa. 22:8–11): collecting armor (1 Kings 7:2; 10:17), fortifying the walls (Isa. 22:9–10), servicing the water supply (v. 9; 2 Chron. 32:1–4, 30; 2 Kings 20:20), and building a reservoir between the walls (Isa. 22:11). But all of this frantic preparation would not deliver them from the enemy. “The defenses of Judah are stripped away” (v. 8, NIV). In their false confidence, they said, “Just as the Lord delivered Jerusalem from Assyria, so He will deliver us from Babylon.”
The people did everything but trust the Lord (v. 11). Instead of feasting, they should have been fasting, weeping, putting on sackcloth, and pulling out their hair in grief (v. 12; Ezra 9:3; James 4:8–10). God had sent the nation many prophets to warn them, but the people would not listen. Now it was too late; their sins could not be forgiven because their hearts were hard. Judah would go into captivity, and God’s word to Isaiah would be fulfilled (Isa. 6:9–13).
The unfaithfulness of the leaders (Isa. 22:15–25). Had the leaders been faithful to the Lord and called the people to repentance, there might have been hope; but too many of the leaders were like Shebna, thinking only of themselves. As treasurer (steward), Shebna was second to King Hezekiah in authority (see chaps. 36–37); but he used his authority (and possibly the king’s money) to build himself a monumental tomb (22:16) and to acquire chariots (v. 18; see 2:7). Shebna was not a spiritual man, and he probably sided with the pro-Egypt party in Judah.
God judged Shebna by demoting him (he became “secretary” according to 36:3, NIV), disgracing him, and deporting him. Eventually he was thrown “like a ball” (22:18) into a far country (Assyria?), where he died. He could not have an expensive funeral and be buried in his elaborate tomb.
God chose a new man, Eliakim (“God will raise up”), and called him “My servant.” Instead of exploiting the people, he would be a father to them and use his “key” (authority) for the good of the nation. He would be like a dependable peg, hammered into the wall, on which you could hang many burdens. But even a godly leader like Eliakim could not prevent the ultimate fall of Judah, for one day the whole nation would fall (v. 25). Eliakim is a picture of Jesus Christ (Rev. 3:7), the greatest Servant of all.
11. Phoenicia (Isa. 23:1–18)

The Phoenicians were a merchant people whose land approximated what is today known as Lebanon. Their ships plied the Mediterranean coasts, where their many colonies assured them of an abundant supply of the world’s wealth. Tyre and Sidon were key cities. Both David and Solomon made use of workers and building materials from Phoenicia (2 Sam. 5:11; 1 Kings 5:8–9). King Ahab married the Phoenician princess Jezebel, who promoted Baal worship in Israel (1 Kings 16:29–33).
Declaration (Isa. 23:1–7). Isaiah addressed ships from Spain (Tarshish) that were docked at Cyprus (Kittim), telling their crews to weep and go home (v. 6) because Tyre was no more. Merchants from Spain, the coastlands, and even Egypt would wail because Tyre’s great shipping industry was gone and the Mediterranean economy had been devastated. (See Rev. 17–18 for a parallel, and note that both Babylon and Tyre are compared to prostitutes [Isa. 23:16–17].) The joyful citizens of Tyre would become mourning refugees (v. 7) when Nebuchadnezzar would conquer Phoenicia in 572 B.C. (He did not conquer the island part of Tyre, but Alexander the Great would do it in 332 B.C. See Ezek. 26.)
Explanation (Isa. 23:8–14). “Who planned this against Tyre?” (v. 8, NIV) The Lord Almighty! Just as He purposed to destroy Egypt (19:23) and Babylon (14:27), so He purposed to judge Tyre. Just as Assyria had destroyed the city of Babylon in 689 B.C., so Tyre and Sidon would be destroyed by a revived Babylon in 585–572 B.C. (23:13). The pride of Tyre (v. 9) was a sin that God could not ignore.
Anticipation (Isa. 23:15–18). Even before their eventual destruction, Tyre and Sidon would not be involved in business for seventy years. History tells us that the Assyrians restricted Phoenician trade from 700–630 B.C.; but when Assyria began to weaken in power, Tyre and Sidon revived their businesses. The prophet compared the revived city to an old prostitute who had to sing lovely songs in order to get attention. Apparently the shipping business would not be as easy or as lucrative as it once was. In verse 18, Isaiah looked ahead to the messianic kingdom, when the wealth of Tyre would not be hoarded (see Zech. 9:3) but given to the Lord as a holy offering.
Our trek through these eleven chapters has taught us some important lessons. First, God is in control of the nations of the world, and He can do with them what He pleases. “Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small” (Friedrich von Logau, translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow). Second, God especially hates the sin of pride. (See Isa. 13:11; 16:6; 23:9; and Prov. 8:13.) When nations turn from the living God to trust their wealth and their armaments, God must show them that He is the only sure refuge. Third, God judges the nations for the way they treat each other. Judah was the only nation mentioned that had God’s Law, yet God held the other ten Gentile nations accountable for what they did. “For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law” (Rom. 2:12, NKJV). Finally, God always gives a word of promise and hope to His people. Babylon will fall, but God will care for Judah (Isa. 14:1–3, 32). Moab will not accept sanctuary from Jerusalem, but God will one day establish Messiah’s throne there (16:5). Assyria and Egypt may be avowed enemies of the Jews, but one day the three nations will together glorify God (19:23–25).
Therefore, no matter how frightening the national or international situation may become, God’s children can have peace because they know Almighty God is on His throne. The nations may rage and plot against God, but “He who sits in the heavens shall laugh” (Ps. 2:4, NKJV).
When the Lord of heaven and earth is your Father, and you gladly wear Christ’s yoke, you have nothing to fear (Matt. 11:25–30). Therefore, be comforted!

FIVE

ISAIAH 24–27

A Refuge from the Storm
After prophesying concerning eleven different nations, Isaiah enlarged his prophecy and described a judgment that would fall on the whole world. The Hebrew word erets, used sixteen times in chapter 24, is translated land, earth, and world in the King James Version. It is not always easy to tell when erets refers to one country or to the whole earth, but the context usually guides us. Isaiah 24–27 describes a global judgment that will end with the destruction of God’s enemies and the restoration of God’s people Israel in their land.
Isaiah warned the Northern Kingdom that the Assyrians would destroy them, and he told Judah that the Babylonians would take them captive; but these local calamities were only forerunners of a vast end-times catastrophe that would engulf the whole world. The prophets call this time of terrible judgment “the Day of the Lord,” and in the New Testament it is described in Matthew 24; Mark 13; and Revelation 6–19.
Isaiah makes three declarations that will comfort God’s chosen people in that awesome day of judgment. These declarations also encourage us today as we see our world plunging headlong into sin and rebellion against God. Will God ever deal with the wicked? What hope is there for the righteous?
1. The Lord will judge His enemies (Isa. 24:1–23)

The result of God’s judgment will be a world that is empty, laid waste, and distorted, and whose inhabitants are scattered. The prophet may have had Genesis 1:2 and 11:9 in mind when he wrote this. Nobody on earth will escape, for “God is no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34). Position, power, and wealth are no protection against the wrath of God. God merely speaks the word and, like a dying invalid, “the world languishes and fades away” (Isa. 24:3–4, NKJV). People who are proud of their wealth and position will find themselves poor and without power.
Why does God punish the inhabitants of the world? Because they have defiled the world by their sins. When Adam sinned, God cursed the ground as a part of the punishment (Gen. 3:17–19; Rom. 8:20–22); and God warned the people of Israel that their sins polluted the Promised Land (Num. 35:33). Today we see man’s greed polluting land, water, and atmosphere, as well as exploiting the earth of its God-given treasures. Sin has consequences in nature as well as in human character and conscience.
For centuries, mankind has polluted the world by disobeying God’s laws and violating His statutes. This was the reason for the Flood (Gen. 6:5, 11–13). Long before Moses gave the Law, people knew that it was wrong to lie, steal, and kill (Rom. 1:18–2:16); but they did these evil things anyway. The “everlasting covenant” of Isaiah 24:5 refers to what we generally call “The Noahic Covenant” (Gen. 8:20–9:17) and deals primarily with our care of God’s world and our treatment of fellow humans. Isaiah 24:16 suggests that God will also judge the world because people are treacherous and do not keep their word. The people of the world have abused both the earth and its inhabitants, and they will pay for it.
Verses 6–13 give a vivid picture of what it will be like on the earth during the Day of the Lord. In Israel, the harvest was generally a time for great joy; but there will be no joy because there will be no harvest. God’s judgments will destroy the crops as well as the workers who would till the soil. (See Rev. 6:8 and 9:15.) “The city” is mentioned at least eight times in these chapters (Isa. 24:10, 12; 26:5; 27:10) and should be taken generically rather than as a reference to any one particular city. Whether people live in rural areas or in the cities, they will not escape God’s wrath.
Like a farmer harvesting the last olive or the last grape, God will do a thorough job of judging sinners (24:13). The only singing during His harvest will be done by the believing remnant who trust God and are delivered (vv. 14–16a). The doctrine of “the remnant” is an important part of Isaiah’s message (1:9; 10:20–22; 11:11, 16; 14:22, 30); Isaiah’s eldest son was named “a remnant shall return” (7:3).
The prophet changed the image in 24:17–18a when he described the futile attempts of frightened animals to avoid the hunters’ traps. But apart from faith in the Lord, there will be no place of escape in that great day of judgment. No matter where sinners go, they will not be able to hide from the wrath of God (Rev. 6:15–17).
The opening of the windows of heaven (Isa. 24:18b) reminds us of the Flood (Gen. 7:11). Jesus said that, before the “Day of the Lord,” society would be as it was in the days before the Flood (Matt. 24:37–42). In that day, God will shake everything; and anything man has made will stagger like a drunk and collapse like a flimsy hut (Isa. 24:20; see 1:8). The weight of guilt will be too heavy for people to carry.
But the Day of the Lord will affect not only the earth and its people but also Satan and his hosts. God will judge “the powers in the heavens above” as well as “the kings on earth below” (24:21, NIV). These judgments will be part of the spiritual battle that has been waging for centuries between the Lord of hosts and the armies of the devil (Gen. 3:15; Luke 10:17–24; Eph. 6:10ff; Rev. 12). Isaiah 24:22 parallels Revelation 20:1–3, an event that will take place just before the thousand-year reign of Jesus Christ (Isa. 24:23; Rev. 20:4–10). The word “visited” in Isaiah 24:22 (KJV) means “released” (cf. NIV margin). The climax of the “Day of the Lord” will be “the Lord of hosts shall reign in Mt. Zion” (v. 23).
2. The Lord will preserve His people (Isa. 25:1–12)

This chapter is a song of praise to the Lord from the believing remnant that He preserved during “the Day of the Lord.” In this song, three striking images stand out.
The ruined city (Isa. 25:1–3). We have met this image before (24:10, 12) and noted that “the city” is a generic term for all cities. Isaiah lived in an agricultural world of towns and villages, and the large cities (or city-states) were places of power and wealth. In times of war, the people fled to the walled cities for protection. But the great cities of the world will offer no protection when God pours out His wrath on the nations (2:19; Rev. 16:19). The rebellious cities will be forced to acknowledge the greatness of God and give their homage to Him.
The refuge (Isa. 25:4–5). Isaiah paints two pictures: the buffeting of a storm and the beating down of a burning sun in the desert. Where can travelers go for refuge? They see a huge rock and find refuge in it. God is that Rock (Deut. 32:3–4, 30; 33:27; Pss. 46:1; 61:1–4), and He will be a refuge for His believing people during that terrible “Day of the Lord.” The victory shouts of the enemy will disappear the way heat vanishes when a cloud covers the sun.
God cares for His own in times of trial and judgment. He kept Noah and his family alive through the Flood (Gen 6–8) and guarded Israel when His judgments fell on Egypt (Ex. 8:22–23; 9:4, 6, 26; 10:23; 11:6–7; 12:13). He protected believing Rahab and her family when Jericho fell (Josh. 6:25) and preserved a faithful remnant when Judah was taken into Babylonian Captivity (Ezra 9:8–9). Throughout the centuries, He has kept His church in spite of the attacks of Satan (Matt. 16:18) and will deliver His church from the wrath to come (1 Thes. 1:10; 5:9). When “the Day of the Lord” comes to this godless world, God will see to it that the Jewish remnant will be preserved. “Hide yourselves for a little while until His wrath has passed by. See, the Lord is coming out of His dwelling to punish the people of the earth for their sins” (Isa. 26:20–21, NIV).
The feast (Isa. 25:6–12). For the Old Testament Jew, a feast was a picture of the Kingdom Age when Messiah would reign over Israel and all the nations of the world. Israel would enter into her glory, and the Gentiles would come to Zion to worship the Lord (2:1–5; 55:1–5; 60:1ff). When Jesus used the image of the feast in Matthew 8:11 and Luke 13:28–29, the people knew He was speaking about the promised kingdom.
The food that we eat only sustains life; but at this feast, death itself will be conquered. “On this mountain He will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; He will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces” (Isa. 25:7–8, NIV). The funeral will turn into a wedding! Verse 8 was quoted by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:54 and by the Apostle John in Revelation 7:17 and 21:4.
The “covering” and “veil” in Isaiah 25:7 may also suggest the blindness of Israel and the nations to the true God and Savior (2 Cor. 3:12–18; 4:3–4). When the Lord Jesus Christ returns in power and great glory, Israel “shall look upon Me whom they have pierced” (Zech. 12:10) and shall trust in Him for salvation. The veil shall be removed, and they will see their Messiah and their God. Then they will sing the song of Isaiah 25:9 as they enter into the great kingdom feast.
In contrast to the exaltation of Mt. Zion is the humiliation of Moab (vv. 10–12). Isaiah probably selected Moab as an example of how God will humble all of Israel’s enemies. The imagery here is quite graphic: The Moabites are compared to straw trampled so deeply into manure that the people have to swim through the manure to get out! (See the NIV.) While the Jews are enjoying a feast of good things, the Moabites are trying to escape from the excrement of the animals the Jews are devouring! Moab was always known for its pride (16:6ff); but God will bring them low along with all the other nations that exalt themselves, exploit others, and refuse to submit to the Lord.
3. The Lord will restore the nation (Isa. 26:1–27:13)

Israel is singing once more (24:14–16; 25:1ff), and this time the emphasis is on righteousness and peace. There can be no true peace apart from righteousness (32:17), and there can be no righteousness apart from God’s salvation in Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:21–31). It is at Calvary that “righteousness and peace have kissed each other” (Ps. 85:10); and when Jesus Christ reigns on earth, the promise of 72:7 will be fulfilled: “In His days the righteous shall flourish, and abundance of peace, until the moon is no more” (NKJV). Jesus Christ is our true Melchizedek—King of Righteousness and King of Peace (Heb. 7:1–3).
The phrase “in that day” (Isa. 26:1; 27:1–2, 12–13) refers to “the Day of the Lord” and the blessings that will follow when the Lord defeats His enemies. In these two chapters, the prophet encourages God’s suffering people by describing in seven pictures the kingdom blessings that await them in the future.
The strong city (Isa. 26:1–6). Samaria fell to the Assyrians and Jerusalem to the Babylonians, but the New Jerusalem would be impregnable. During “the Day of the Lord,” God will level the lofty cities of the earth; but Mt. Zion will be exalted to the glory of the Lord (2:1–5). Jerusalem will no longer be the sinful city described in chapter 1; it will be a righteous city for a holy nation whose sins have been washed away (Zech. 13:1). Compare Isaiah 26:2 with Psalms 15 and 24.
Only those who have trusted Jesus Christ will enter the city; and because they believe, they have peace (Rom. 5:1). The Hebrew word for “peace” (shalom) means much more than a cessation of war. It includes blessings such as wholeness, health, quietness of soul, preservation, and completeness. “What is your peace?” is the way Jews often greet one another; and Isaiah’s reply would be, “My peace is from the Lord, for I trust wholly in Him!” Paul’s counsel in Philippians 4:6–9 is based on Isaiah 26:3.
It is worth noting that Augustus Toplady’s song “Rock of Ages” is based on the marginal reading of verse 4: “for in the Lord God is the Rock of ages.” The New Jerusalem is a city built on a Rock!
The level path (Isa. 26:7–11). We have noted Isaiah’s emphasis on the image of the highway (see comments at 11:16). During much of their history, the Jews have traveled a rough road; but when the kingdom is established, God will give them level paths and a smooth way. Because they will be walking in the will of God, their way will be safe and enjoyable. They will wait on the Lord to discern His will. They will yearn for the Lord and worship Him even in the night (Ps. 119:55).
According to Isaiah 26:9–11, God wants the world to learn righteousness. He sends His judgments, but the people still will not repent (Rev. 9:20–21; 16:9). He shows them His grace in a thousand ways, but they continue to do evil. His hand is at work, but they will not see it. The prophet prays that God will reveal Himself through His people as He works on their behalf. The reviving and restoring of Israel should help to convince a lost world that God is not dead and that He keeps His promises.
The woman in travail (Isa. 26:12–18). The agony of “the Day of the Lord” is compared to the pain of a woman travailing in birth (13:6–8; 1 Thes. 5:1–3). Isaiah describes the remnant confessing their failures to the Lord. Because of their sins, they had been subjected to many Gentile tyrants; but now these tyrants were dead and could not return to enslave them. God disciplined His people and brought them to the place where all they could do was whisper their prayers (Isa. 26:16, NIV), but He heard them and delivered them. Israel was in pain like a woman giving birth, except that their travail produced nothing! Israel failed to give birth to the blessings God wanted them to bring to the world (v. 18). But during the Kingdom Age, Israel and Mt. Zion will be the source of blessing for the whole world.
What hindered Israel from being the blessing to the world that God wanted them to be? They turned from the sincere worship of the true God and gave their devotion to idols. The Hebrew verb in verse 13 translated “had dominion” (KJV) gives us the noun baal, the name of the Canaanite storm god whose cult created so many problems in Israel. But the word baal also means “husband,” so the suggestion is that Israel was not true to her husband Jehovah, but in her unfaithfulness turned to another god. The same image occurs in James 4:4.
The life-giving dew (Isa. 26:19–21). Just as the dew brings new life to the soil and vegetation, so God will raise the dead out of the earth. The prophet had already announced God’s great victory over death (25:7–8), and now he tells us how He will do it: He will raise their bodies from the dust. Resurrection is not reconstruction; God does not reassemble the body and give it life. Paul compared the miracle of resurrection to the harvesting of grain planted in the soil (1 Cor. 15:35–49). The seed is buried and dies, but out of this death comes forth life and fruitfulness. Isaiah had just written about travail (Isa. 26:17–18), so he compares the resurrection to human birth: “The earth will give birth to her dead” (v. 19, NIV).
When Christ returns for His church, believers who “sleep in Jesus” will be raised from the dead (1 Thes. 4:13–18). When He returns with His church to judge His enemies and establish His kingdom, there will also be a resurrection (Rev. 19:11–20:6). These two events are called “the first resurrection” and include only saved people. At the end of the thousand years, when Satan is finally imprisoned, the lost will be raised to face the Great White Throne Judgment (vv. 7–15). While the Old Testament does not give the complete revelation about death and resurrection, it does assure us that there is a future for the human body (Dan. 12:2; Ps. 16:9–10).
The remnant has been praying to God (Isa. 26:11–19), and now God speaks to them and gives them the assurance they need (vv. 20–21). He promises to shelter His people from the terrible attacks of the enemy (Rev. 12). God will punish His enemies who have slain His people, whose blood cries out from the earth for vengeance (Gen. 4:10–11; Ezek. 24:7–8; Rev. 6:9–11). The unjust shedding of blood pollutes the land (Num. 35:29–34; Ps. 106:34–39) and invites the judgment of God.
The conquered beast (Isa. 27:1). The nations around Israel had many myths about sea monsters, one of whom was compared to “leviathan,” probably the crocodile (Job 3:8; 41:1ff). To slay leviathan was a great achievement (Ps. 74:14), and the Lord promised to do it. Satan held these nations in bondage through their superstitious religions, and the remnant did not need to fear the false gods of the Gentiles. God’s people today are set free from bondage to Satan and the false gods he seduces people to worship (Col. 2:13–15), and we can rejoice in our Lord’s great victory (John 12:31). When the battle is over and the Lord has conquered evil, Israel can enter her glorious kingdom without fear.
The fruitful vineyard (Isa. 27:2–11). As in 5:1–7, the vineyard is Israel; but here the prophet sees both the Israel of his day and the Israel of the future day when the kingdom will be established. God was not angry with His people (27:4); He just yearned for them to return to Him and fervently trust Him. He used war (Assyria) to punish the Northern Kingdom and Captivity (Babylon) to discipline the Southern Kingdom (v. 8, NIV), but He did this in love and not in anger. Verses 10–11 are a description of Jerusalem after the Babylonian siege. God temporarily took away His mercy until His purposes were fulfilled.
In “the Day of the Lord,” God will use suffering to purge His people and prepare them for their kingdom. Verse 9 does not suggest that personal suffering can atone for sin, for only the sacrifice of Jesus Christ can do that. God uses suffering as a discipline to bring us to submission so that we will seek Him and His holiness (Heb. 12:1–11). The Babylonian Captivity cured the Jews of their idolatry once and for all (Isa. 27:9).
In Isaiah’s day, the vineyard was producing wild grapes; but in the future kingdom, Israel will be fruitful and flourishing. God will guard His people and give them all that they need to bring glory to His name. The nation will “blossom and bud, and fill the face of the world with fruit” (v. 6). Through Israel, all the nations of the earth will be blessed (Gen. 12:1–3).
The Bible speaks of three vines: the people of Israel (Isa. 5; 27), Christ and His church (John 15), and godless Gentile society, “the vine of the earth” (Rev. 14:18). The vineyard of Israel is not bearing fruit, the “vine of the earth” is filling the world with poisonous fruit, and God’s people must be faithful branches in the Vine and produce fruit that glorifies God’s name.
The holy and happy feast (Isa. 27:12–13). The camp of Israel was directed by the blowing of trumpets (Num. 10). The Feast of Trumpets took place on the first day of the seventh month and prepared Israel for the annual Day of Atonement (Lev. 23:23–32). But the Day of Atonement prepared them for the Feast of Tabernacles, which is a picture of the joy of the future kingdom (Lev. 23:33–44).
Isaiah envisioned a glorious day when God would repeat the miracle of the Exodus and deliver His people from their bondage to the Gentile nations. The trumpet would summon them to Jerusalem (Matt. 24:31) and announce God’s victory over their foes, and they would “worship the Lord in the holy mount at Jerusalem.” The kingdom will be like an endless feast and a holy day of worship as the people rejoice in the Lord.
Of course, God’s people today are also awaiting “the sound of the trumpet” (1 Cor. 15:50–58; 1 Thes. 4:13–18) announcing the coming of the Lord for His church. Then we will go with Him to heaven and prepare for the marriage supper of the Lamb. We shall return with Him to earth and reign with Him in the kingdom.
Are you praying daily, “Thy kingdom come”?
Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). Be Comforted (S. 42–69). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

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