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Words from GOD – Words to GOD

Be comforted, part 6-7, Archbishop Dr. Uwe AE.Rosenkranz

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ISAIAH 28–31

Storm Clouds over Jerusalem
The name “Jerusalem” means “city of peace,” but throughout its history it has been associated more with conflict than with peace. Even today, Jerusalem is a focal point for concern in the Middle East. “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem,” admonished the psalmist (Ps. 122:6). Why pray for Jerusalem? Why not pray for London or Moscow or Rome? Because when there is true peace in Jerusalem, there will be peace in the whole world (Isa. 52:7; 66:12); so we had better take the psalmist’s words to heart.
Chapters 28–31 record a series of five “woes” (28:1; 29:1, 15; 30:1; 31:1) that focus primarily on Jerusalem. A sixth “woe” is found in 33:1, and interspersed with these “woes” of judgment are promises of restoration and glory. Isaiah is attempting to get the rulers of Judah to stop trusting “power politics” and international treaties and start trusting the Lord.
1. The Lord warns Jerusalem (Isa. 28:1–29)

Like all devout Jews, Isaiah loved Jerusalem, the holy city, the city of David, the place of God’s dwelling (Pss. 122 and 137). But Isaiah saw storm clouds gathering over the city and announced that trouble was coming. It was time for the nation to turn to God in repentance.
He began his message announcing God’s judgment on Ephraim (Isa. 28:1–6). Surely their neighbor’s fall would serve as a warning to the people of Judah and Jerusalem. If Assyria conquered Samaria, then Judah was next on the list. The Northern Kingdom was proud of its capital city, Samaria, that sat like a beautiful crown (or wreath) at the head of a fruitful valley. But their arrogance was detestable to God, for they thought their fortress city was impregnable. Samaria reigned in luxury and pleasure and had no fear of her enemies.
The Lord was also appalled by their drunkenness. To the Jews, wine was a gift from God and a source of joy (Jud. 9:13; Ps. 104:15). The Law did not demand total abstinence, but it did warn against drunkenness (Deut. 21:18–21; Prov. 20:1; 23:20–21, 29–35). The Prophet Amos denounced the luxurious indulgences of the people in both Judah and Samaria (Amos 6:1–7), and Isaiah also thundered against such godless living (Isa. 5:11–12, 22).
A government official in Washington, D.C. once quipped, “We have three parties in this city: the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, and the cocktail party.” Indeed, Washington, D.C. ranks high on the list of cities noted for alcohol consumption. Many people don’t realize that alcohol and nicotine, America’s favorite legal narcotics, do far more damage than all the illegal drugs combined. According to Dr. Arnold Washton, alcohol and nicotine kill 450,000 people annually, while illegal drugs kill about 6,000 (Willpower’s Not Enough, Harper & Row, 1989; p. 13). This does not make illegal drugs acceptable, but it does help us put things in perspective. What hope is there for our affluent, pleasure-loving society that gives lip service to religion and ignores the tragic consequences of sin and the judgment that is sure to come?
Samaria was proud of her beauty, but that beauty was fading like a cut flower (28:1, 4) that could never stand before the coming tempest. God was sending a storm across the land, and their proud city would be destroyed by wind, rain, hail, and flood—the Assyrian army! Conquering Samaria would be as easy as plucking a fig from a tree! On that day of judgment, Samaria would learn too late that Jehovah, not Samaria, is the “crown of glory” and “diadem of beauty” (v. 5); and that He is a God of justice (vv. 5–6). The reference here is to God’s deliverance of Jerusalem from Assyria, even when the enemy was at the very gates (chaps. 36–37).
Perhaps the people of Judah rejoiced to hear Isaiah announce the fall of their rival kingdom, but their celebration was shortlived; for the prophet then announced that Judah was guilty of the same sins as Samaria and therefore was in danger of judgment (28:5–8). The priests and the prophets, who should have been examples to the people, were staggering drunk around the city and carousing at tables covered with vomit. Their counsel to the people did not come from the Spirit of God but from their own drunken delusions (see Eph. 5:18). They not only swallowed wine but were “swallowed up of wine” (Isa. 28:7). This reminds us of the Japanese proverb: “First the man takes a drink, then the drink takes a drink, and then the drink takes the man.”
But pride and drunkenness were not Judah’s only sins; they also mocked God’s prophet and rejected God’s Word (vv. 9–13). Verses 9–10 are the words of the drunken prophets and priests as they ridiculed Isaiah. “He talks to us as though we were little children,” they said. “He keeps saying the same things over and over again and uses the vocabulary of a child. There is certainly no need to take anything he says seriously!”
Society today often takes a similar attitude toward God’s servants and God’s Word. People are so intoxicated by intellectual pride that they laugh at the simple message of the Gospel presented by humble witnesses (1 Cor. 1:18–31). The Prophet Amos was ejected from the king’s chapel because he was a simple farmer and not a member of the religious elite (Amos 7:10–17). Evangelist D.L. Moody was often laughed at because his speech was not polished, but God used him to bring many thousands to the Savior.
What was Isaiah’s answer to this supercritical crowd of religious drunks? “If you will not listen to my simple speech in your own language, God will speak to you with a language you do not understand. He will send the army of Assyria, whose language is foreign to you.” This happened to both Ephraim and Judah. The Assyrians completely destroyed the Southern Kingdom in 722 B.C.; and in 701 B.C., after devastating the land of Judah, they came to the very gates of Jerusalem.
This leads to Isaiah’s third announcement: God offers His people rest (Isa. 7:4; 8:6–8), but they will not obey (hear) His Word (28:12–20). The prophet had given them a plain message that everybody could understand, but they rejected it. Their faith was in their political alliances and not in God (vv. 15, 18). In the days of King Ahaz, they made a secret treaty with Assyria; and in the days of King Hezekiah, they turned to Egypt for help (30:1–5; 31:1). But these “covenants with death and the grave” were destined to fail because God was not in them. The enemy would come like a flood, a storm, and a whip (scourge); and there would be no escape. Ephraim would be destroyed, and Judah would be saved by the skin of her teeth. The bed they had made (their alliances) could not give them rest (see 28:12), and the covering they made (their treaties) would not cover them (see 31:1).
Their only hope was in the tried and true foundation stone (28:16), the “Rock of ages” (26:4; 8:14; 17:10). This is definitely a reference to the Messiah and is so interpreted in the New Testament (1 Peter 2:4–7; Rom. 9:33; Mark 12:10; see Ps. 118:22). If they had faith in Jehovah, they would not be rushing here and there, trying to forge alliances, a practice that only leads to shame and failure (Rom. 10:11). A solid rock is better protection than a flimsy covering of lies!
Isaiah’s final announcement was that their confidence that God would not judge them was a delusion (Isa. 28:21–29). “But God defended His people in the past!” they argued. “What about David’s victory over the Philistines at Mount Perazim [2 Sam. 5:17–21], or Joshua’s victory over the Amorites at Gibeon [Josh. 10]?” But Joshua and David were godly leaders who trusted Jehovah and obeyed His Word. What Isaiah’s scoffing opponents did not realize was that God would do a “strange work”: He would use the enemy to fight against His own people! Just as a farmer has different tasks to perform and must adapt himself to each task, whether plowing or threshing, so God must do the work that is necessary to bring about His eternal purposes. He knows just what tool to use and when to use it.
Jerusalem watched the Northern Kingdom fall to the Assyrians, but this judgment did not bring them to repentance. When we start saying to ourselves, “It can never happen to me!”—it is sure to happen!
2. The Lord humbles Jerusalem (Isa. 29:1–14)

“Ariel” is a code name for Jerusalem and means “lion of God.” The lion was a symbol of Assyria, so the prophet may have been saying, “Assyria is now God’s lion, and Jerusalem is God’s lion in name only.” But the Hebrew word also means “an altar hearth,” where the burnt offerings were sacrificed (Ezek. 43:13–18). “It [Jerusalem] shall be unto me as Ariel [an altar hearth]” (Isa. 29:2). In other words, it would become a place of slaughter.
God was going to humble the proud city. Instead of roaring and frightening the enemy, the lion would only whisper from the dust (v. 4). Instead of their sacrifices being accepted by God (v. 1), the entire city would become an altar; and God would make His people a sacrifice.
When did these things happen? God began to “turn on the heat” in 701 B.C. when Assyria marched triumphantly through Judah and almost took Jerusalem. God defeated Assyria in an instant (37:36), “suddenly” (29:5), like blowing away dust or chaff (v. 6). This discipline should have brought Judah back to the Lord; but after the death of Hezekiah, they returned to their sins. So, in 586 B.C., God sent the Babylonians, who conquered Jerusalem and destroyed it, taking thousands of Jews into captivity. God did His “strange work” and permitted His own people to be slain by the enemy. The city indeed was like an altar hearth, and thousands were sacrificed to the wrath of the enemy.
But Isaiah looked far down the highway of history to the end times when Jerusalem would be attacked by the armies of the world (vv. 7–8; Zech. 14:1–3). This is what prophetic students call “the battle of Armageddon,” though that title is not used in Scripture (Rev. 14:14–20; 16:13–21). When it looks as though the city is about to fall, and the enemy armies are sure of victory, Jesus Christ will return and deliver His people (19:11–21). The enemy victory will vanish.
Why were the people of Jerusalem so ignorant of what was going on? Their hearts were far from God (Isa. 29:13). They went through the outward forms of worship and faithfully kept the annual feasts (v. 1; 1:10ff), but it was not a true worship of God (Matt. 15:1–9). Going to the temple was the popular thing to do, but most of the people did not take their worship seriously. Therefore, God sent a “spiritual blindness” and stupor on His people so that they could not understand their own Law. Such blindness persists today (Rom. 11:8; 2 Cor. 3:13–18). If people will not accept the truth, then they must become more and more blind and accept lies. (See John 9:39–41 and 2 Thes. 2:1–12.)
3. The Lord appeals to Jerusalem (Isa. 29:15–24)

This “woe” exposed the devious political tactics of the rulers of Judah, who thought that God would not hold them accountable for what they were doing. They were trying to turn things upside down, the clay telling the potter what to do. (See 45:9; 64:8; Jer. 18; and Rom. 9:20.) If only people would seek the counsel of the Lord instead of depending on their own wisdom and the fragile promises of men!
In Isaiah 29:17–24, Isaiah asked the people to look ahead and consider what God had planned for them. In their political strategy, they had turned things upside down; but God would one day turn everything around by establishing His glorious kingdom on earth. The devastated land would become a paradise, the disabled would be healed, and the outcasts would be enriched and rejoice in the Lord. There would be no more scoffers or ruthless people practicing injustice in the courts. The founders of the nation, Abraham and Jacob, would see their many descendants all glorifying the Lord.
In light of this glorious future, why should Judah turn to feeble nations like Egypt for help? God is on their side, and they can trust Him! Abraham went to Egypt for help and got into trouble (Gen. 12:10–20), and Isaac started for Egypt but was stopped by God (26:1–6). God cared for Jacob during all of his years of trial, and surely He could care for Jacob’s children. It is tragic when a nation forgets its great spiritual heritage and turns from trusting the Lord to trusting the plans and promises of men.
At the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787, Benjamin Franklin said, “I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth—that God governs in the affairs of men. I therefore beg leave to move that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of heaven and its blessings on our deliberations be held in this Assembly every morning …” Isaiah sought that attitude in Jerusalem; but instead, he found only scoffing and unbelief.
4. The Lord rebukes Jerusalem (Isa. 30:1–33)

This fourth “woe” begins with God’s rebuke of the nation’s rebellion (vv. 1–17). Isaiah opened his prophecy with this accusation (1:2, 20, 23), and he ends it on that same note (63:10; 65:2). After all that God had done for His people, they turned away from Him and sought the help of feeble Egypt. Unlike the leaders of old, the rulers of Jerusalem did not seek the will of God: Moses (Num. 27:21), Joshua (Josh. 9:14), David (1 Sam. 30:7–8), and Jehoshaphat (1 Kings 22:7ff). Egypt was but a shadow, and what could a shadow do against the great Assyrian army?
Isaiah then uttered an oracle (burden) concerning the caravan that was then traveling from Jerusalem to Egypt with treasures to buy protection against Assyria (Isa. 30:6–7). He saw the burdened animals making their way through the difficult and dangerous terrain of the Negev (the south), and he cried, “It is all to no profit! It is useless! The Egyptians will help in vain!” In verse 7, which should be read in a recent translation, Isaiah gives a nickname to Egypt: “Rahab-hem-shebeth,” which means “Rahab the do-nothing.” (Rahab is one of the names for Egypt in the Old Testament.)
It was bad enough that Judah rebelled against God by trusting Egypt instead of trusting Jehovah, and depending on money instead of on God’s power, but they even went so far as to completely reject the Word of God (vv. 8–11). God told Isaiah to make a placard that said, “This is a rebellious people, lying children, children who will not hear the Law of the Lord” (v. 9). He carried this sign as he walked around Jerusalem, and no doubt most of the people laughed at him. The leaders did not want to hear God’s truth; they wanted “pleasant words” from the false prophets, sermons that would not disturb their comfortable way of life. Is the situation much different today? (See Jer. 6:14; 8:11; and 1 Kings 22:1–28.)
Decisions have consequences, and Isaiah told the people what would happen to Judah and Jerusalem because they were trusting in lies: Their wall of protection would suddenly collapse, shattered to pieces like a clay vessel (Isa. 30:12–14). When Assyria invaded the land, Egypt lived up to her nickname and did nothing. It was not till the last minute that God stepped in and rescued His people, and He did it only because of His covenant with David (37:35–36). During Assyria’s invasion of Judah, the Jews were not able to flee on their horses imported from Egypt (30:16–17; Deut. 17:16), and one enemy soldier was able to frighten off a thousand Jews! What humiliation! (See Deut. 32:30.)
Their only hope was to repent, return to the Lord, and by faith rest only in Him (Isa. 30:15; 8:6–7; 26:3; 28:12); but they would not listen and obey.
The prophet then turned from the subject of rebellion to the subject of restoration (30:18–26). “Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you,” he told the people; “He rises to show you compassion” (v. 18, NIV). God’s grace is His favor toward those who do not deserve it, and it is only because of His grace that we have any blessings at all. Isaiah described that future day when Israel would be restored to her land to enjoy the blessings of the kingdom. They would be like liberated prisoners of war (v. 19). Instead of scoffing, they would listen to God’s Word and put away their foolish idols. The land would be restored and become prosperous again, and God would bind up the bruises and heal the wounds of His people (v. 26; see 1:5–6). The “great slaughter” of verse 25 is the battle of Armageddon, which will occur just before the return of the Lord to deliver His people and establish His kingdom (Rev. 19:11–21).
His final theme in this “woe” is retribution (Isa. 30:27–33), the announcement that God will defeat the Assyrians. God used Assyria to discipline Judah, but He would not permit the Assyrians to take the city of David. Isaiah used several images to describe God’s judgment of Assyria: a storm of fire and hail, a flood, the sifting of grain (see Amos 9:9), and the harnessing of a horse so that the enemy is led off like a farm animal.
Just as Sheol was prepared for the king of Babylon (Isa. 14:9ff), so Topheth was prepared for the king of Assyria. Topheth was a site outside Jerusalem where the worshipers of Molech sacrificed their children (2 Kings 16:3; 21:6; Jer. 7:31–32; 19:6, 11–14). It was defiled by Josiah (2 Kings 23:10), turned into a garbage dump, and named “Gehenna,” which comes from ge-ben-hinnom, meaning “valley of the son of Hinnom.” That was the location of Topheth. “Gehenna” is the New Testament word for “hell.” The funeral pyre for the great king of Assyria would be a garbage dump! How humiliating!
The Jews would rejoice greatly at the defeat of Assyria, not unlike their rejoicing at Passover to commemorate the defeat of Egypt. When the Jews celebrate Passover, they still have “a song in the night” (Matt. 26:30); and the “timbrels and harps” (Isa. 30:32) remind us of the songs of Miriam and the Jewish women at the Red Sea (Ex. 15:20–21).
5. The Lord defends Jerusalem (Isa. 31:1–9)

This fifth “woe” is a brief summary of what Isaiah had already told the people. Indeed, he was teaching them “line upon line, here a little, and there a little” (28:10); and yet they were not getting the message.
Their faith was in men, not in God. They trusted in the legs of horses and the wheels of chariots, not in the hand of the Lord. God warned the Jewish kings not to go to Egypt for horses and chariots (Deut. 17:14–16), but Solomon ignored this warning (1 Kings 10:28–29). Going to Egypt for help had always been a temptation to the Jews (Ex. 13:17; 14:11–12; Num. 11:5, 18; 14:3ff).
Why should the Lord fear the Assyrians? Does a lion fear a flock of sheep and their shepherds? Do the eagles fear as they hover over their young in the nest? God will pounce on Assyria like a lion and swoop down like an eagle, and that will be the end! In one night, the Assyrian army was wiped out (Isa. 37:36).
Think of the money Judah would have saved and the distress they would have avoided had they only rested in the Lord their God and obeyed His will. All their political negotiations were futile and their treaties worthless. They could trust the words of the Egyptians but not the Word of God!
As God’s church today faces enemies and challenges, it is always a temptation to turn to the world or the flesh for help. But our first response must be to examine our hearts to see if there is something we need to confess and make right. Then we must turn to the Lord in faith and obedience and surrender to His will alone. We must trust Him to protect us and fight for us.
A friend of mine kept a card on his office desk that read: Faith Is Living Without Scheming. In one statement, that is what Isaiah was saying to Judah and Jerusalem; and that is what he is saying to us today.

SEVEN

ISAIAH 32–35

Future Shock and Future Glory
In 1919, American writer Lincoln Steffens visited the Soviet Union to see what the Communist revolution was accomplishing; and in a letter to a friend, he wrote, “I have seen the future, and it works.” If he were alive today, he would probably be less optimistic; but in those days, “the Russian experiment” seemed to be dramatically successful.
A university professor posted a sign on his study wall that read, “The future is not what it used to be.” Since the advent of atomic energy, many people wonder if there is any future at all. Albert Einstein said that he never thought about the future because it came soon enough!
In the four chapters that conclude the first section of his prophecy, Isaiah invites us to look at four future events to see what God has planned for His people and His world. These chapters are not human speculation; they are divinely inspired revelation, and they can be trusted.
1. A King will reign (Isa. 32:1–20)

At the beginning of its history, the nation of Israel was a theocracy, with God as King; it was not a monarchy led by human rulers. In the days of Samuel, the people asked for a king; and God gave them Saul (1 Sam. 8; see Deut. 17:14–20). God did not establish a dynasty through Saul because Saul did not come from the tribe of Judah (Gen. 49:10). It was David who established both the dynasty for Israel’s throne and the ancestry for Israel’s Messiah (2 Sam. 7). Every devout Jew knew that the future Messiah-King would be the Son of David (Matt. 22:41–46).
In Isaiah 32:1, Isaiah writes about “a king”; but in 33:17, he calls him “the king.” By the time you get to verse 22, He is “our king.” It is not enough to say that Jesus Christ is “a King” or even “the King.” We must confess our faith in Him and say with assurance that He is “our King.” Like Nathanael, we must say, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (John 1:49, NKJV)
In contrast to the evil rulers of Isaiah’s day (Isa. 1:21–23), Messiah will reign in righteousness and justice (32:1, 16; 33:5; see 9:7; 11:1–5). In addition, the King will be like a rock of refuge for the people (8:14; 17:10; 26:4; 28:16) and like a refreshing river in the desert (8:5–8; 33:21; 41:18; 48:18; 66:12). “He who rules over men must be just,” said David, “ruling in the fear of God” (2 Sam. 23:3–4, NKJV).
Isaiah 32:3–4 describes the wonderful transformations that will occur because of Messiah’s reign. Isaiah ministered to spiritually blind, deaf, and ignorant people (6:9–10; 29:10–12); but in the kingdom, all will see and hear God’s truth as well as understand and obey it. (See 29:18 and 42:7.) This will happen because the nation will have a new heart and enter into a New Covenant with the Lord (Jer. 31:31–34).
The “churl” (Isa. 32:5–8) is the knave or scoundrel who uses his or her position for personal profit and not for the good of the people. In Isaiah’s day, as in our own day, the common people admired “the rich and famous,” even though the character and conduct of these “celebrities” deserved no respect. They had money, fame, and influence; and in the eyes of the populace, that made them important. But in the kingdom, there will be no such deception. “Wealthy cheaters will not be spoken of as generous, outstanding men! Everyone will recognize an evil man when he sees him, and hypocrites will fool no one at all” (vv. 5–6, TLB).
Not only will their character and motives be exposed and judged, but so will their ungodly methods (v. 7). No longer will the poor and helpless be cheated by these liars! Instead of knaves, the leaders who rule with Messiah will be noble people who will plan noble things.
Behind the selfish rulers of Judah, and influencing them for evil, were the “aristocratic women” of Jerusalem, who were complacent and self-confident in a time of grave national crisis (vv. 9–14; see 3:16–26; Amos 4:1–3; 6:1–6). Isaiah warned them that “in little more than a year [NIV],” the land and the cities would be desolate. This took place in 701 B.C. when Sennacherib’s Assyrian army invaded Judah and devastated the land. The Jews confined in Jerusalem were greatly concerned about future harvests, and Isaiah had a word for them (Isa. 37:30–31). But before the siege ended and God delivered Jerusalem, these worldly women in Jerusalem had to sacrifice not only their luxuries, but also their necessities.
In 32:15–20, the prophet returns to his description of the messianic kingdom and emphasizes the restoration of peace and prosperity. None of these changes took place after the deliverance of Jerusalem in 701 B.C. or when the remnant returned to Jerusalem from Babylon, so we must assign these prophecies to the future kingdom. Because of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, there will be peace and plenty because there will be righteousness in the land (Joel 2:28–32; Zech. 12:10; Ezek. 36:26–27). The land will be so productive that the desert will be like a fruitful field and the fruitful field like a forest. The people will fear no enemies, and their work will be rewarded.
Judah could have enjoyed safety, quietness, and assurance had they trusted wholly in the Lord and not turned to Egypt for help (Isa. 30:15–18; 32:17–18). Righteousness is the key word in verse 17, for there can be no true peace without a right relationship with God (Rom. 5:1; James 3:13–17). When sinners trust Christ and receive the gift of righteousness, then they can have peace in their hearts and peace with one another.
2. Jerusalem will be delivered (Isa. 33:1–24)

This is the sixth and final “woe” in this section (28:1; 29:1, 15; 30:1; 31:1), and it is directed against Sennacherib because of his treachery against Judah. In unbelief, King Hezekiah had tried to “buy off” the Assyrians (2 Kings 18:13–15); but Sennacherib had broken the agreement and invaded Judah anyway. He was a thief, a traitor, and a tyrant; and God promised to judge him. He had destroyed others, so he would be destroyed. He had dealt treacherously with nations, so they would deal treacherously with him. God is not mocked; sinners reap what they have sown (Gal. 6:7).
Isaiah 33:2 is the prayer of the godly remnant when Jerusalem was surrounded by the Assyrian army. Isaiah had promised that God would be gracious to them if they would only trust Him (30:18–19), so a few devout people turned His promise into prayer. God spared Jerusalem for David’s sake (37:35) and because a believing remnant trusted God and prayed. Never underestimate the power of a praying minority.
Assyria was proud of her power and the spoils she had gathered in battle. The Assyrian army swept through the land like devouring locusts, but that would change. The day would come when Judah would strip the dead Assyrian army and Sennacherib would be assassinated in the temple of the god he claimed was stronger than Jehovah (vv. 36–38). The Lord was exalted in the defeat of Assyria (33:5), for no human wisdom or power could have done what He did. We must remember that nations and individuals can have stability in uncertain times only when they trust God and seek His wisdom and glory. King Hezekiah did a foolish thing when he took the temple treasures and tried to bribe Sennacherib (2 Kings 18:13–16), but God forgave him and reminded him that “the fear of the Lord is [your] treasure” (Isa. 33:6). Unbelief looks to human resources for help, but faith looks to God.
During the time of the Assyrian invasion, the situation in Judah was grim (vv. 7–9). Judah’s bravest soldiers wept when they saw one city after another fall to the enemy. The official Jewish envoys wept because their negotiations accomplished nothing. The roads were dangerous, the fields and orchards were ruined, and there was no way of escape.
Except for—God! “ ‘Now will I rise,’ saith the Lord, ‘now will I be exalted, now will I lift up Myself’ ” (v. 10). In verses 11–12, Isaiah uses several images to describe God’s judgment on the Assyrians. The Assyrians were “pregnant” with all sorts of plans to conquer Jerusalem; but they would give birth to chaff and straw, and their plans would amount to nothing. Their army was panting to attack, but their hot breath would only become a fire that would destroy them like dead bones or cut bushes. God is long-suffering with His enemies; but when He decides to judge, He does a thorough job.
The account of the amazing deliverance of Jerusalem was told far and wide, and the Gentile nations had to acknowledge the greatness of Jehovah, the God of the Jews. Some scholars believe that Psalm 126 grew out of this experience and may have been written by Hezekiah. “Then they said among the nations, ‘The Lord hath done great things for them’ ” (v. 2). We witness to a lost world when we trust Him and let Him have His way. The miracle deliverance of Jerusalem not only brought glory to God among the Gentiles, but it also brought fear and conviction to the Jews (Isa. 33:14–16). God does not deliver us so that we are free to return to our sins. “But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared” (Ps. 130:4). When Jews in Jerusalem saw 185,000 Assyrian soldiers slain by God in one night, they realized anew that the God of Israel was “a consuming fire” (Isa. 10:17; Heb. 12:29). Were they even safe in Jerusalem?
Isaiah 33:15 describes the kind of person God will accept and bless. (See also Pss. 15 and 24.) By ourselves, we cannot achieve these qualities of character; they come only as we trust Jesus Christ and grow in grace. Many religious people in Jerusalem had hearts far from God because their religion was only a matter of external ceremonies (Isa. 29:13). Isaiah hoped that the miracle deliverance of the city would bring these people to a place of true devotion to the Lord. It is only as we walk with the Lord that we have real security and satisfaction.
In 33:17–24, the prophet lifts his vision to the end times and sees Jerusalem ruled by King Messiah. God’s victory over Assyria was but a “dress rehearsal” for His victory over the whole Gentile world system that will one day assemble to destroy the holy city (Zech. 14:1–9). When our Lord was ministering on earth, the unbelieving Jews said, “There is no beauty that we should desire Him” (Isa. 53:2). But when they see Him and believe, then they will perceive His great beauty (Zech. 12:3–13:1; Ps. 45).
In contrast to the ordeal of the Assyrian siege, the Jews in the messianic kingdom will experience no terror, see no arrogant military officers, and hear no foreign speech (Isa. 33:18–19). Jerusalem will be like a tent that will not be moved (see 54:1–3), pitched by a broad river that will never carry the vessels of invading armies. Jerusalem is one of the few great cities of antiquity that was not built near a river, but that will change during the millennial kingdom (Ezek. 47). Of course, the river symbolizes the peace that the Lord gives to His people (Isa. 48:18; 66:12; Ps. 46:4).
Jerusalem was a ship that almost sank (Isa. 33:23), but the Lord brought it through the storm (Ps. 107:23–32); and the weakest of the Jews was able to take spoils from the dead army. “All the functions of government—judicial, legislative, and executive—will be centered in the Messianic King,” says the note on Isaiah 33:22 in The New Scofield Reference Bible. No wonder His people can say, “He will save us!”
Both sickness and sin will be absent from the city. Messiah will be their Redeemer and Savior, and the nation “shall be forgiven their iniquity” (v. 24). In Isaiah’s day, the Jews were a “sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity” (1:4), just as lost sinners are today; but when they see Him and trust Him, their sins will be washed away. If you have never heeded the gracious invitation of Isaiah 1:18, do so today!
3. The sinful world will be judged (Isa. 34:1–17)

Israel’s ancient enemy Edom is singled out in verses 5–6, but this divine judgment will come upon the whole world. Edom is only one example of God’s judgment on the Gentile nations because of what they have done to His people Israel. “For the Lord has a day of vengeance, a year of retribution, to uphold Zion’s cause” (v. 8, NIV). In the Day of the Lord, the Gentiles will be repaid for the way they have treated the Jews and exploited their land (Joel 3:1–17). “Zion’s cause” may not get much support among the nations today, but God will come to their defense and make their cause succeed.
Isaiah begins with a military picture of the armies on earth (Isa. 34:2–3) and in heaven (v. 4). The enemy armies on earth will be slaughtered, the land will be drenched with blood, and the bodies of the slain will be left unburied to rot and to smell. This is a vivid description of the battle of Armageddon (Rev. 19:11–21), the humiliating defeat and destruction of the armies of the world that dare to attack the Son of God. The hosts of heaven will also be affected by vast cosmic disturbances (Isa. 34:4; see Matt. 24:29; Joel 2:10, 30–31; 3:15; Rev. 6:13–14). What a day that will be!
In Isaiah 34:5–8, the prophet moves from the battlefield to the temple and sees this worldwide judgment as a great sacrifice that God offers. (See Jer. 46:10; 50:27; Ezek. 39:17–19.) The practice was for the people to kill the sacrifices and offer them to God, but now it is God who offers the wicked as sacrifices. Bozrah was an important city in Edom; the name means “grape-gathering” (see Isa. 63:1–8). God sees His enemies as animals: Rams, goats, lambs, oxen, and bulls are all sacrificed, along with the fat (Lev. 3:9–11). These nations sacrificed the Jews, so God used them for sacrifices.
The picture changes again, and Isaiah compares the Day of the Lord to the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah (Isa. 34:9–10; Gen. 18–19). This is a significant comparison because, just before the coming of the Lord, society will be “as it was in the days of Lot” (Luke 17:28). Tar running like streams and sulfur like dust will keep the fires of judgment burning (Gen. 14:10; 19:24). The description in Isaiah 34:10 reminds us of the fall of Babylon (Rev. 14:8–11; 19:3). We should also remember that the fires of eternal hell, the lake of fire, will never be quenched (Mark 9:43–48).
While Isaiah focused especially on Edom (Isa. 34:5–6), he was using that proud nation as an example of what God would do to all the Gentile nations during the Day of the Lord. When God finishes His work, the land will be a wilderness, occupied only by bramble and thorns, wild beasts, and singular birds (vv. 11–17). God will see to it that each bird will have a mate to reproduce, and no humans will be around to drive them from their nests.
“But the Day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night” (2 Peter 3:10). Why is God waiting? Because God “is long-suffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (v. 9, NKJV). How much longer God will wait, nobody knows; so it behooves lost sinners to repent today and trust the Savior.
4. The glorious kingdom will be established (Isa. 35:1–10)

But the wilderness will not remain a wilderness, for the Lord will transform the earth into a Garden of Eden. All of nature eagerly looks for the coming of the Lord (55:12–13; Rom. 8:19; Pss. 96:11–13; 98:7–9), for nature knows that it will be set free from the curse of sin (Gen. 3:17–19) and share the glory of the kingdom. Lebanon, Carmel, and Sharon were three of the most fruitful and beautiful places in the land, and yet the desert would become more fruitful and beautiful than the three places put together! There will be no more “parched ground” (Isa. 35:7), because the land will become a garden of glory.
Isaiah uses the promise of the coming kingdom to strengthen those in his day who were weak and afraid (vv. 3–4). In the kingdom, there will be no more blind or deaf, lame or dumb; for all will be made whole to enjoy a glorious new world. (In 32:3–4, the prophet wrote about spiritual deficiencies, but here he is describing physical handicaps.) Our Lord referred to these verses when he sent a word of encouragement to John the Baptist (Luke 7:18–23). The King was on earth and sharing with needy people the blessings of the coming kingdom.
Isaiah 35:8 expresses one of Isaiah’s favorite themes: the highway (11:16; 19:23; 40:3; 62:10). During the Assyrian invasion, the highways were not safe (33:8), but during the Kingdom Age it will be safe to travel. There will be one special highway: “The Way of Holiness.” In ancient cities, there were often special roads that only kings and priests could use; but when Messiah reigns, all of His people will be invited to use this highway. Isaiah pictures God’s redeemed, ransomed, and rejoicing Jewish families going up to the yearly feasts in Jerusalem, to praise their Lord.
When Isaiah spoke and wrote these words, it is likely that the Assyrians had ravaged the land, destroyed the crops, and made the highways unsafe for travel. The people were cooped up in Jerusalem, wondering what would happen next. The remnant was trusting God’s promises and praying for God’s help, and God answered their prayers. If God kept His promises to His people centuries ago and delivered them, will He not keep His promises in the future and establish His glorious kingdom for His chosen people? Of course He will!
The future is your friend when Jesus Christ is your Savior and Lord.
INTERLUDE

KING HEZEKIAH

ISAIAH 36–39
Except for David and Solomon, no king of Judah is given more attention or commendation in Scripture than Hezekiah. Eleven chapters are devoted to him in 2 Kings 18–20; 2 Chronicles 29–32; and Isaiah 36–39, “He trusted in the Lord God of Israel; so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor any that were before him” (2 Kings 18:5).
He began his reign about 715 B.C., though he may have been coregent with his father as early as 729 B.C. He restored the temple facilities and services of worship, destroyed the idols and the high places (hill shrines where the people falsely worshiped Jehovah), and sought to bring the people back to vital faith in the Lord. He led the people in a nationwide two-week celebration of Passover and invited Jews from the Northern Kingdom to participate. “And in every work that he began in the service of the house of God, and in the law, and in the commandments, to see His God, he did it with all his heart, and prospered” (2 Chron. 31:21).
After the fall of the Northern Kingdom in 722 B.C., Judah had constant problems with Assyria. Hezekiah finally rebelled against Assyria (2 Kings 18:7); and when Sennacherib threatened to attack, Hezekiah tried to bribe him with tribute (vv. 13–16). It was a lapse of faith on Hezekiah’s part that God could not bless. Sennacherib accepted the treasures but broke the treaty (Isa. 33:1) and invaded Judah in 701 B.C. The account of God’s miraculous deliverance of His people is given in chapters 36–37.
Bible students generally agree that Hezekiah’s sickness (Isa. 38) and foolish reception of the envoys (Isa. 39) took place before the Assyrian invasion, possibly between the time Hezekiah sent the tribute and Sennacherib broke the treaty. Then why are these chapters not arranged chronologically?
The prophet arranged the account as a “bridge” between the two parts of his book. Chapters 36 and 37 end the first part of the book with its emphasis on Assyria, and chapters 38 and 39 introduce the second part of the book, with its emphasis on Babylon. Isaiah mentions Babylon earlier in his book (13:1ff; 21:1ff), but this is the first time he clearly predicts Judah’s Captivity in Babylon.
Chapters 36–39 teach us some valuable lessons about faith, prayer, and the dangers of pride. Though the setting today may be different, the problems and temptations are still the same; for Hezekiah’s history is our history, and Hezekiah’s God is our God.
Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). Be Comforted (S. 69–92). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

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