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Monday, December 29, 2014

Isaiah 14, Part Four: Pride and Arrogance

Isaiah 14, Part Four: Pride and Arrogance

Israel had been besieged by Babylonia. Jerusalem was sacked and its population killed or exiled to Babylon (Daniel 1). Babylonia itself was then besieged and conquered by the Medes. (Daniel 5:3).

The final king of Babylonia, Belshazzar, proclaimed five instances of "I will...":

  • I will ascend to heaven;
  • Above the stars of God I will set my throne on high;
  • I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north;
  • I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
  • I will make myself like the Most High. (Isaiah 14:13-14 ESV)

A "scud cloud" refers to a formation of vapory clouds driven fast by the wind. "Copse" or "coppice" refers to a small group of trees, orginally an area in which the trees or shrubs have been cut back to ground level to stimulate growth for firewood or timber.

The core of the king's proud declarations of power center upon height. The king imagined himself far removed from any earthly power, farther even than stars which appear to us as dots of light. The king considered himself as high as a mountain, distant as the farthest edge of the unknown north, unconstrained and free as storm clouds.

What do you think?

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Monday, December 22, 2014

Isaiah 14, Part Three: Fall From Power and Privilege

Isaiah 14, Part Three: Fall From Power and Privilege

Israel's triumph over Babylon brings an opportunity to express superiority in the form of a taunt.

Isaiah 14:3-4 (ESV) When the LORD has given you rest from your pain and turmoil and the hard service with which you were made to serve, you will take up this taunt against the king of Babylon: How the oppressor has ceased, the insolent fury ceased!

TAUNT: mashal "maw-SHAWL" (a pithy maxim; a simile, in the sense of superiority); from mashal (to rule) The great emperor of Babylonia would fall in defeat, to be ruled by those he oppressed.

The scornful song imagines a scene in Sheol, the place of the dead, where the leaders of nations that had fallen to Babylon take up the taunt:

Isaiah 14:9-11 (ESV) It rouses the shades to greet you, all who were leaders of the earth; it raises from their thrones all who were kings of the nations. All of them will answer and say to you: You too have become as weak as we! You have become like us! Your pomp is brought down to Sheol, the sound of your harps; maggots are laid as a bed beneath you, and worms are your covers.

Lastly, the king of Babylon is described as a rebel against God:

Isaiah 14:12-17 (ESV) How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low! You said in your heart, I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’ But you are brought down to Sheol, to the far reaches of the pit. Those who see you will stare at you and ponder over you: Is this the man who made the earth tremble, who shook kingdoms, who made the world like a desert and overthrew its cities, who did not let his prisoners go home?

What examples of Babylon's arrogance can be found in the Bible?

The kingdom of Babylonia was probably jointly ruled by two kings during its final days before being destroyed by the Medes. Nabonidus was the principal king, and his son was Belshazzar.

The Medes invaded, Nabonidus surrendered, but Belshazzar shut himself up in his palace with a thousand noble lords and feasted while Babylon burned.

Secular history described Belshazzar as cruel, in one instance killing one of his nobles, merely because, in hunting, the noble struck down the game first before him. In another instance Belshazzar castrated a royal administrator at a banquet, because one of the king's concubines had praised the man as handsome (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary).

Daniel rebuked Belshazzar as proudly arrogant. Naming him as a son (probably meaning a descendant) of a previous king, Nebuchadnezzer, Daniel warned Belshazzar of the end of his kingdom:

Daniel 5:22-23, 26-28 (ESV) And you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, though you knew all this, but you have lifted up yourself against the Lord of heaven. And the vessels of his house have been brought in before you, and you and your lords, your wives, and your concubines have drunk wine from them. And you have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone, which do not see or hear or know, but the God in whose hand is your breath, and whose are all your ways, you have not honored...This is the interpretation of the matter: MENE, God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; TEKEL, you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting; PERES, your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.

Isaiah refers to Babylon as the Day Star and the Son of Dawn:

Two words are used here in the Hebrew to express the notion of "dawn". Why does Isaiah use a word meaning to howl?

Previously Isaiah used the same word:

Isaiah 13:6 (ESV) Wail, for the day of the LORD is near; as destruction from the Almighty it will come!

Jeremiah used similar language:

Jeremiah 51:8 (ESV) Suddenly Babylon has fallen and been broken; wail for her!

Isaiah seems to be making a strong emotional statement, contrasting the height of power and wealth held by the Babylonians with depth of darkness and despair they later experienced when conquered by the Medes.

What do you think?

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Monday, December 15, 2014

Isaiah 14, Part Two: Submission in Service

Isaiah 14, Part Two: Submission in Service

The broken nations of Syria, Assyria and Babylon would join themselves with Israel, content to be servants.

Isaiah 14:1-2 (ESV) For the LORD will have compassion on Jacob and will again choose Israel, and will set them in their own land, and sojourners will join them and will attach themselves to the house of Jacob. And the peoples will take them and bring them to their place, and the house of Israel will possess them in the LORD's land as male and female slaves. They will take captive those who were their captors, and rule over those who oppressed them.

Isaiah later adds more description of these servants:

Isaiah 61:5 (ESV) Strangers shall stand and tend your flocks; foreigners shall be your plowmen and vinedressers.

This enslavement will be voluntary, motivated by submission to God:

Isaiah 60:14 (ESV) The sons of those who afflicted you shall come bending low to you, and all who despised you shall bow down at your feet; they shall call you the City of the LORD, the Zion of the Holy One of Israel.

What do you think?

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Monday, December 8, 2014

Isaiah 14, Part One: Punishment or Providence?

Isaiah 14, Part One: Punishment or Providence?

Previously...

God revealed to Isaiah the soon-to-come gathering of nations to war, resulting in the fall of the Babylonian empire to the might of the Medes. The arrogant and pompous Chaldean kingdom of Babylon had attempted to utterly conquer the weakened state of Israel.

Now, in chapter 14...

This chapter contains three separate oracles, or proclamations, concerning three different nations:

  • Babylon (verses 1-23)
  • Assyria (verses 24-27)
  • Philistia (verses 28-32)

Babylon

The triumph of the Medes over Babylon would be a critical part of God's plan for Israel.

Isaiah 14:1-2 (ESV) For the LORD will have compassion on Jacob and will again choose Israel, and will set them in their own land, and sojourners will join them and will attach themselves to the house of Jacob. And the peoples will take them and bring them to their place, and the house of Israel will possess them in the LORD's land as male and female slaves. They will take captive those who were their captors, and rule over those who oppressed them.

"Those who oppressed them" referred to Syria, Assyria and Babylon - nations that had each in their turn attempted to destroy or control Israel. Most of the Jewish population had been captured and removed to faraway lands.

Many Israelites experienced the life of a sojourner, a foreigner in an alien culture, probably fearful of the unknown, expecting hostility, hoping for hospitality.

The LORD had moved foreign nations to battle and oppression against Israel, as punishment for Israel's idolatry, wickedness and injustice. But the punishment would end, and Israel would be restored to God's love and to a place of favor. Jews would return to their homeland and be made masters and providers for those who once were enemies.

Through Isaiah, the LORD promised that the exile would end, their oppressors would themselves become sojourners among the Israelites.

"Sojourners" conveys an image of people without a home, people once rich and powerful reduced to seeking shelter and succor from those who had triumphed over them.

What do you think?

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Monday, December 1, 2014

You Shall Love The Lord Your God

You Shall Love The Lord Your God

I recently learned a new worship song:

Love the Lord your God,
With all your heart,
With all your soul,
With all your mind,
And with all your strength

With all your heart, With all your soul,
With all your mind, with all your strength!

What is the difference between heart, soul, mind and strength?

Mark 12:28-30 (ESV) And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’

Jesus cited this Old Testament reference:

Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (ESV) Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

The Old Testament Hebrew reference omits "mind".

What are the original words in New Testament Greek?

What are the original words in Old Testament Hebrew?

The two New Testament words for soul and mind are combined in one Old Testament word.

In every emotion, every thought, and every action we are to love the LORD our God.

The English word, love, means an intense feeling of deep affection. It may be used in reference to romantic or sexual attachment for someone, or a great interest or pleasure in something (The New Oxford American Dictionary).

Thus, we are to have an intense feeling of deep affection for God, and a great interest and pleasure in God's plans, actions and desires. Our love for God is to be experienced and expressed in every aspect of human life: deeply felt emotions and desires, continual reliance and constant awareness, and forceful action and movement.

For a Christian, there is nothing in life or death that does not directly connect to loving God. For a Christian, there is nothing outside of loving God completely and utterly.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Isaiah 13, Part 2: The Oppressor is Oppressed

Isaiah 13, Part 2: The Oppressor is Oppressed

What has gone before...

God has suddenly brought to Isaiah a prophecy regarding the faraway nation of Babylon, the ancient site at which a tall tower had been built. The tower had been an attempt at "making a name for themselves", and God had intervened and confused their language, dispersing them throughout the world.

Moving on...

Isaiah 13:4-5 (ESV) The LORD of hosts is mustering a host for battle. They come from a distant land, from the end of the heavens, the LORD and the weapons of his indignation, to destroy the whole land.

Isaiah implies that Babylon will be attacked by a nation "from a distant land", with the LORD using another nation as the "weapons of his indignation".

The LORD's anger will bring desolation and destruction:

Isaiah 13:9 (ESV) Behold, the day of the LORD comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the land a desolation and to destroy its sinners from it.

Isaiah 13:11 (ESV) I will punish the world for its evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; I will put an end to the pomp of the arrogant, and lay low the pompous pride of the ruthless.

Isaiah 13:19-20 (ESV) And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the splendor and pomp of the Chaldeans, will be like Sodom and Gomorrah when God overthrew them. It will never be inhabited or lived in for all generations.

Who were the Chaldeans?

Chesed was a nephew of Abraham:

Genesis 22:20-22 (ESV) Now after these things it was told to Abraham, "Behold, Milcah also has borne children to your brother Nahor: Uz his firstborn, Buz his brother, Kemuel the father of Aram, Chesed, Hazo, Pildash, Jidlaph, and Bethuel."

The region in which Chesed lived became known as the land of the Chaldees, or Chaldeans. It was located near Abraham's birthplace, Ur, located near the Persian Gulf, near present-day Basra. By the time of Isaiah, the Chaldean dynasty had spread its control northward to include the land of Shinar.

How was Babylon connected with the judgement and punishment of Israel?

The nation of Israel had committed spiritual adultery against God, their Creator and LORD and experienced a repeating cycle of sin, oppression and rescue.

Israel --> Syria --> Assyria --> Babylon

Isaiah 1:4 (ESV) Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, children who deal corruptly! They have forsaken the LORD, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they are utterly estranged.

North Israel, or "Ephraim", joined with Syria in attempting to conquer South Israel, or "Judah and the house of David":

Isaiah 7:1 (ESV) In the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, son of Uzziah, king of Judah, Rezin the king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah the king of Israel came up to Jerusalem to wage war against it, but could not yet mount an attack against it.

Isaiah 7:5-6 (ESV) Because Syria, with Ephraim and the son of Remaliah, has devised evil against you, saying, "Let us go up against Judah and terrify it, and let us conquer it for ourselves, and set up the son of Tabeel as king in the midst of it,"

God used the nation of Assyria as a tool of judgement against his people:

Isaiah 7:18 (ESV) In that day the LORD will whistle for the fly that is at the end of the streams of Egypt, and for the bee that is in the land of Assyria.

Isaiah 7:20 (ESV) In that day the Lord will shave with a razor that is hired beyond the River-with the king of Assyria - the head and the hair of the feet, and it will sweep away the beard also.

Isaiah 8:4 (ESV) Before the boy knows how to cry 'My father' or 'My mother,' the wealth of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria will be carried away before the king of Assyria."

Isaiah 9:12 (ESV) The Syrians on the east and the Philistines on the west devour Israel with open mouth. For all this his anger has not turned away, and his hand is stretched out still.

Isaiah 10:5-6 (ESV) Ah, Assyria, the rod of my anger; the staff in their hands is my fury! Against a godless nation I send him, and against the people of my wrath I command him, to take spoil and seize plunder, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets.

But Assyria would in turn be judged by God:

Isaiah 10:12 (ESV) When the Lord has finished all his work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, he will punish the speech of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria and the boastful look in his eyes.

Babylon would then become the LORD's tool of judgement against the arrogance of the Assyrians, only to become herself the focus of God's wrath:

Isaiah 13:17 (ESV) Behold, I am stirring up the Medes against them.

Isaiah 13:18-19 (ESV) Their bows will slaughter the young men; they will have no mercy on the fruit of the womb; their eyes will not pity children. And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the splendor and pomp of the Chaldeans, will be like Sodom and Gomorrah when God overthrew them.

Madai was a grandson of Noah (Genesis 10). The civil war between north and south Israel had allowed Assyria to invade and carry away much of the population, many of them ending up in the cities founded by Madai:

2 Kings 17:6 (ESV) In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria, and he carried the Israelites away to Assyria and placed them in Halah, and on the Habor, the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.

The cities of the Medes, or "Media", was a province stretching east of the Zagros Mountains, and north to the Caspian Sea and the Elbur mountain-chain, which runs parallel to its southern shore (Bible History Old Testament).

The Zagros Mountains lie between Iraq and Iran, and the Elbur (Elburz) mountain-chain lines the southern edge of the Caspian Sea, near Tehran, Iran.

Another prophet also described Babylon as having been ruthlessly oppressive and being judged by God as a result:

Jeremiah 50:33-35 (ESV) Thus says the LORD of hosts: The people of Israel are oppressed, and the people of Judah with them. All who took them captive have held them fast; they refuse to let them go. Their Redeemer is strong; the LORD of hosts is his name. He will surely plead their cause, that he may give rest to the earth, but unrest to the inhabitants of Babylon. A sword against the Chaldeans, declares the LORD!

A "nation from the north" would administer punishment against Babylon:

Jeremiah 50:41-43 (ESV) "Behold, a people comes from the north; a mighty nation and many kings are stirring from the farthest parts of the earth. They lay hold of bow and spear; they are cruel and have no mercy. The sound of them is like the roaring of the sea; they ride on horses, arrayed as a man for battle against you, O daughter of Babylon! The king of Babylon heard the report of them, and his hands fell helpless; anguish seized him, pain as of a woman in labor.

Daniel describes the day in which Babylon fell:

Daniel 5:25-28 (ESV) And this is the writing that was inscribed: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, and PARSIN. This is the interpretation of the matter: MENE, God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; TEKEL, you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting; PERES, your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians."

Daniel 5:30-31 (ESV) That very night Belshazzar the Chaldean king was killed. And Darius the Mede received the kingdom, being about sixty-two years old.

Historical writings of Herodotus and Xenophon confirm the sudden fall of Babylon:

"Cyrus diverted the Euphrates into a new channel and, guided by two deserters, marched by the dry bed into the city, while the Babylonians were carousing at an annual feast to the gods." (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary)

Judah, Ephraim, Syria, Assyria, and Babylon...a string of nations embroiled in war, conquest and oppression, each rising and falling in a succession of glorious power and gory defeat.

Isaiah's prophecy of Babylon's fall at the hands of the Medes came 174 years before it happened (Jamieson-fausset-Brown Bible Commentary).

What do you think?

Map image of Madai by WORDsearch Basic, www.wordsearchbible.com

Peter Paul Rubens [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, November 17, 2014

Isaiah 13, Part 1: A Mark of Individuality

Isaiah 13, Part 1: A Mark of Individuality

What has gone before...

Following the promise of a Divine Judge Who would restore earth to Eden's perfect beginning, Isaiah assured Israel that there would come a day of joy, a time of singing. God would be praised as their Strength and Salvation, the Holy One of Israel.

To this point Isaiah's visions have concerned Israel, Syria and Assyria, with only slight mention of surrounding people groups. Now, in Chapter 13, Isaiah's perspective shifts to Babylon.

Moving on...

Isaiah 13:1 (ESV) The oracle concerning Babylon which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw.

What, or who, was Babylon?

The first reference in the Bible to Babylon is found in the Book of Genesis:

Genesis 10:6-11 (ESV) The sons of Ham: Cush, Egypt, Put, and Canaan. The sons of Cush: Seba, Havilah, Sabtah, Raamah, and Sabteca. The sons of Raamah: Sheba and Dedan. Cush fathered Nimrod; he was the first on earth to be a mighty man. He was a mighty hunter before the LORD. Therefore it is said, "Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the LORD." The beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar.

Babylon was the capitol of a kingdom called the land of Shinar, which was pivotal in world history.

Genesis 11:1-2 (ESV) Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.

Genesis 11:4 (ESV) Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth."

The people built "with its top in the heavens" in order to "make a name for ourselves". The LORD halted the people's desire for honor and authority.

NAME: shem "shame" (a mark or memorial of individuality; honor, authority or character)

Genesis 11:6-9 (ESV) And the LORD said, "Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another's speech." So the LORD dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth. And from there the LORD dispersed them over the face of all the earth.

What do you think?

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Monday, November 10, 2014

Isaiah 12, Part 2: God Draws Near

Isaiah 12, Part 2: God Draws Near

Isaiah makes an abrupt change in tone midway through this chapter. Verse one began with "You", translated from a Hebrew word that is singular, suggesting a feeling of isolation.

But the subject of verse three is a word that is plural, suggesting fellowship or gathering together.

Isaiah 12:3 (ESV) With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.

Further supporting the notion of plurality, the song encourages the listeners to "make known his deeds among the peoples...let this be made known in all the earth."

Perhaps the change in number points to the unity experienced between an individual and God:

Isaiah 12:6 (ESV) Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.

"Your" in verse six is singular, but describes God as being in the midst of that singular person, as if Isaiah is speaking of an person indwelt by the Spirit of God.

What do you think?

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Monday, November 3, 2014

Isaiah 12, Part 1: Anger Turns to Comfort

Isaiah 12, Part 1: Anger Turns to Comfort

What has gone before...

The LORD promised a divine Judge who would end oppression and wickedness on earth.

Isaiah 11:4 (ESV) With righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.

The dispersed tribes of Israel will be regathered and restored to the land around Jerusalem.

Isaiah 11:12 (ESV) He will raise a signal for the nations and will assemble the banished of Israel, and gather the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.

All nations on earth will turn to Jerusalem in worship of the LORD.

Isaiah 11:10 (ESV) In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.

Moving on...

Now, in Chapter 12, Isaiah breaks into song, calling all the earth to join in worship of the One Who will judge, restore and redeem His creation.

Isaiah 12, Part 1: Anger Turns to Comfort

Isaiah 12:1 (ESV) You will say in that day: I will give thanks to you, O LORD, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me.

"In that day" connects Isaiah's song to the previous chapter:

Isaiah 11:11 (ESV) In that day the Lord will extend his hand yet a second time to recover the remnant that remains of his people, from Assyria, from Egypt, from Pathros, from Cush, from Elam, from Shinar, from Hamath, and from the coastlands of the sea.

The restoration of Israel to their promised homeland will lift the people's heart in thankfulness and praise. God's anger will change to comfort when the Righteous Judge stands as a signal to all nations as borders and barriers break down over the earth and Israel returns home.

The LORD's anger will turn away, to be replaced by the LORD's comfort.

"Comfort" can convey a feeling of relief at a burden lifted, or at least hope of that relief. Lamech named his son, "Comfort" in the hope of relief from painful toil (Genesis 5:29).

Isaac was "comforted" after his mother's death by Rebekah, his wife (Genesis 24:67).

After the fury and wrath of Assyria's invasion, Isaiah predicts that the remnant of Israel will breathe a deep sigh of relief and sing a song of trust and thankfulness for their salvation.

Isaiah 12:2 (ESV) Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the LORD GOD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.

"Succor" means assistance and support in times of hardship and distress, from Latin succurrere (run to the help of)

These two words offer a wonderful picture of God running to the help of those who are running to Him for refuge.

What do you think?

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Monday, October 27, 2014

Isaiah 11, Part 4: Recovering the Remnant

Isaiah 11, Part 4: Recovering the Remnant

The Lord restores the nation of Israel, bringing back from dispersion, the Israelites scattered by war and exile.

Isaiah 11:11-12 (ESV) In that day the Lord will extend his hand yet a second time to recover the remnant that remains of his people, from Assyria, from Egypt, from Pathros, from Cush, from Elam, from Shinar, from Hamath, and from the coastlands of the sea. He will raise a signal for the nations and will assemble the banished of Israel, and gather the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.

Isaiah described the recovering of the remnant as "a second time". When was the first time?

Isaiah 11:16 (ESV) There will be a highway from Assyria for the remnant that remains of his people, as there was for Israel when they came up from the land of Egypt.

Pursued by their captors, Israel found themselves with their backs against the sea, facing an Egyptian army six hundred chariots strong. The people despaired their situation, and they cried with regret for attempting to break free of their enslavement. A cloud fell between them and their enemy, dropping darkness on the Egyptian army yet lighting up the night for Israel. The LORD drove the sea back by a strong wind, allowing the people to easily escape. When the Egyptians attempted to follow, a tremendous storm of fire and cloud threw them in a panic, their chariots bogged down in the sand, and the wind reversed, overwhelming the Egyptians in the flood.

Exodus 14:28-29 (ESV) The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen; of all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea, not one of them remained. But the people of Israel walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.

Isaiah says the LORD will perform a similar miracle in recovering the remnant of Israelites scattered throughout the world, from Assyria to Egypt, from Mesopotamia to far western regions beyond the sea. Civil strife will end, the nation of Israel will command all of the land once known as Canaan; the sea between Israel and Egypt, and the great river between Assyria and Israel will be easily crossed.

It is important to remember that this hope-filled promise of recovery and restoration comes immediately after the scathing rebuke of Israel's leaders in Chapter 10. The LORD used the Assyrian army to punish and humble the Israelites, but promises them glorious restoration to his favor.

What do you think?

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Monday, October 20, 2014

Isaiah 11, Part 3: The Signal

Isaiah 11, Part 3: The Signal

The LORD will make "the root of Jesse", the divinely Righteous Judge of the world, to stand as a signal.

Isaiah 11:10 (ESV) In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.

The first instance of "signal" is found in the Book of Numbers:

Numbers 21:8-9 (ESV) The LORD said to Moses, "Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live." So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.

"Pole" is the same word as "signal".

David composed a psalm which referred to a banner, using the same word as "signal":

Psalm 60:4 (ESV) You have set up a banner for those who fear you, that they may flee to it from the bow.

Isaiah used the same word earlier in reference to the Syrian and Assyrian armies:

Isaiah 5:26 (ESV) He will raise a signal for nations far away, and whistle for them from the ends of the earth; and behold, quickly, speedily they come!

All instances of "signal" refer to the raising of something high, attracting the attention of many, communicating an important message of urgency.

Isaiah describes the LORD's Righteous Judge as being a signal for the people of many nations, calling them to himself as a Source of help and rest.

Isaiah refers to two different groups of people: people closely associated together ("peoples"), and people who are outsiders or foreigners ("nations").

The Righteous Judge will be lifted up as the highest representative of a specific group of people, most likely those associated with the tribe of Jesse. The Judge will be recognized as belonging to the people of Israel. However, even foreign nations will be drawn to the Judge, seeking something regarded as worthy of pursuit: glorious rest.

A reference that uses "rest" with all three meanings of consolation, matrimony, and an abode is found in the Book of Ruth, where Naomi prays for her widowed daughters-in-law:

Ruth 1:9 (ESV) "The LORD grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!" Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept.

"Rest" implied the security and peace of a loving, capable husband who could provide the women an abundant life.

What do you think?

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Monday, October 13, 2014

Isaiah 11, Part 2: Fearing the LORD

Isaiah 11, Part 2: Fearing the LORD

Isaiah referred to fear of the LORD as something admirable.

Isaiah 11:3 (ESV) His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear,

The root word of "fear of the LORD" is a word meaning an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat (The New Oxford American Dictionary). "Fear" comes from an Old English word meaning calamity or danger.

Adam feared punishment after disobeying God's command regarding the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Genesis 3:10). Jacob feared the loss of his wives after tricking Laban (Genesis 31:31). The Israelites feared pain and injury from serpents, scorpions and desert (Deuteronomy 8:15).

Rather than describing someone running away from something fearful, Isaiah described God's Righteous Judge as having delight in fearing the LORD.

Things pleasant or desirable easily become associated with their smell. A farmer regards the smell of a growing field as a reminder of profit and security (Genesis 27:27). Perfume or incense will awaken a desire for worship or love (Exodus 30:38). A warrior's horse smells a battle and paws the ground in eagerness (Job 39:25).

That which is frightening about God is what the Righteous Judge would regard as a sweet aroma. This Judge would regard every reminder of God's dangerous ability to bring calamity or danger as something delightful.

Isaiah speaks as though the poor and meek of the earth would benefit from the decisions of a Judge Who could punish and kill wicked people with perfect righteousness and equity.

"Forensic" refers to the scientific investigation of crime.

So, how can something that causes fear be a good thing? How does God's potential for calamity and danger be connected to experiencing something right, pleasant or prosperous?

People who are poor or meek will experience true righteousness and equity only if those who steal or oppress them are punished or destroyed.

People who are dangling, weak or thin, whether in body or mind, are easily oppressed. People who are forced to listen, or forced to watch and obey, easily become brow-beaten or depressed in posture and conduct. Gentleness or humility may be a positive character quality, but it could also be a result of bullying or subservience.

Without strength in themselves, poor or meek people will find rescue only in Someone perfectly right and good Who is capable of enforcing righteousness and equity.

A Judge who is powerful and sovereign, and acts out of righteousness and equity, may indeed be something delightful...especially for those who are poor or meek.

What do you think?

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Monday, October 6, 2014

Isaiah 11, Part 1: The LORD's Righteous Judge

Isaiah 11, Part 1: The LORD's Righteous Judge

Previously, in Chapter 10...

Isaiah declares God's judgement against the iniquitous leaders of Israel who oppressed the needy and poor. A powerful enemy, Assyria, would be used by God as a rod of anger against godless Israel.

But Assyria herself would be punished for their arrogance when the king boasts of his unlimited power and lofty scorn for the God of Israel. Assyria's invasion would be suddenly halted before the gates of Jerusalem with a wasting sickness that would decimate the army.

Only a remnant of Israel would survive the destruction of war, yet the people would return in faith to the LORD.

Now, in Chapter 11...

Isaiah describes One Who would judge the world with the power and righteousness of God. This Righteous Judge will stand above all earthly governments and powers, ushering in a time of extraordinary peace and joy. The scattered remnant of the nation of Israel will return from all corners of the world to the land given them by God after their exodus from Egypt.

The LORD will empower a Righteous Judge.

Isaiah 11:1-2,4,10 (ESV) There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him...with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked...In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples — of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.

"A shoot from the stump of Jesse" describes the earthly lineage of the Lord's Righteous Judge.

"Jesse" refers to the father of Israel's celebrated warrior-king David (1 Samuel 16). Isaiah compares Jesse to a tree, fallen in old age but sprouting new growth from its roots.

Who was Jesse? What preeminence made this man a reference point for a divine, Righteous Judge who would oversee a time of earthly peace like no other?

Jesse appears to have been a simple farmer with eight sons, living in Bethlehem, David being the youngest and least significant in his father's eyes. Even after David had gained a reputation for valor and leadership his father regarded him but lightly (1 Samuel 16:18-19). David's identity remained that of "the son of Jesse". Those jealous of David's popularity used the label as a reminder of his simple, rural bloodline (1 Samuel 22:7-8).

However, David seemed to take pride in his humble background, seeing it as a testimony to the power of God's grace:

1 Chronicles 28:4 (ESV) The LORD God of Israel chose me from all my father’s house to be king over Israel forever. For he chose Judah as leader, and in the house of Judah my father’s house, and among my father’s sons he took pleasure in me to make me king over all Israel.

In the minds of all Israel David would be "the son of Jesse". Isaiah's reference to a descendent of Jesse would cause any Israelite to immediately think of David and God's promise to provide a Ruler forever from the tribe of Judah and the family of Jesse.

Has a descendent of Jesse appeared to fulfill Isaiah's promise?

At the time of Isaiah, Jesse had been dead for over 200 years. Over that time Jesse's descendants never achieved anything near the peaceful utopia described by Isaiah.

Isaiah 11:6-10 (ESV) The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.

None of Jesse's descendents fit Isaiah's description of the Righteous Judge...except one.

Acts 13:22-23 (ESV) [God] raised up David to be their king, of whom he testified and said, "I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart, who will do all my will." Of this man’s offspring God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised.

Jesus was a direct descendent of David the son of Jesse, and the New Testament is the story of how faith in Jesus brings a person spiritual perfection now, and physical perfection in the future.

Luke 1:31-33 (ESV) You shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.

Acts 13:38-39 (ESV) Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.

Jesus claimed to be empowered by the Spirit of the LORD:

Luke 4:18-19 (ESV) The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Ephesians 1:3 (ESV) Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing.

Colossians 1:13-20 (ESV) He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

Will Jesus be Judge of all earth? Isaiah described the Judge as one who would render a righteous verdict in favor of the poor and meek, and destroying the wicked on the earth forever.

While ministering on earth Jesus did not regard himself as a judge:

John 8:15 (ESV) You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one.

But Jesus did expect a day in which he would judge the world:

John 5:21-23, 25-29 (ESV) For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him...an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man...an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.

John 5:30 (ESV) I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.

Romans 2:16 (ESV) God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

2 Timothy 4:1 (ESV) Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead.

Revelation 19:11 (ESV) I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war.

What do you think?

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Monday, September 15, 2014

Isaiah 10 (Part 2 of 2): Condemnation of Arrogance

Isaiah 10 (Part 2 of 2): Condemnation of Arrogance

=== Main Idea #2 ===

God furiously condemned Assyria's arrogance.

The king of Assyria did not in the least consider God to be his commander. He took to himself the glory and fame of conquest and control.

Isaiah 10:12 (ESV) When the Lord has finished all his work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, he will punish the speech of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria and the boastful look in his eyes.

Assyria was a tool in the hands of God, a tool of judgement and punishment against Israel's idolatry and wickedness. God moved the leaders of Assyria against Israel, "to take spoil and seize plunder, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets."

But Assyria went beyond God's intent. Not content with seizing property and commanding tribute, Assyria sought to destroy all of Israel, boasting of his power.

Isaiah 10:8-11, 13-14 (ESV) for he says: "Are not my commanders all kings? Is not Calno like Carchemish? Is not Hamath like Arpad? Is not Samaria like Damascus? As my hand has reached to the kingdoms of the idols, whose carved images were greater than those of Jerusalem and Samaria, shall I not do to Jerusalem and her idols as I have done to Samaria and her images?...By the strength of my hand I have done it, and by my wisdom, for I have understanding; I remove the boundaries of peoples, and plunder their treasures; like a bull I bring down those who sit on thrones. My hand has found like a nest the wealth of the peoples; and as one gathers eggs that have been forsaken, so I have gathered all the earth; and there was none that moved a wing or opened the mouth or chirped."

In consequence, the Lord would allow Assyria's rampage to harm Israel, but not destroy her. And then the Lord would punish Assyria.

Isaiah 10:15-16, 18 (ESV) Shall the axe boast over him who hews with it, or the saw magnify itself against him who wields it? As if a rod should wield him who lifts it, or as if a staff should lift him who is not wood! Therefore the Lord GOD of hosts will send wasting sickness among his stout warriors, and under his glory a burning will be kindled, like the burning of fire...The glory of his forest and of his fruitful land the LORD will destroy, both soul and body, and it will be as when a sick man wastes away.

Isaiah 10:25 (ESV) In a very little while my fury will come to an end, and my anger will be directed to their destruction.

God allowed the Assyrian army to invade Israel's land, marching in a line from the northern towns of Aiath and Migron, to the southern city of Michmash, nine miles from Jerusalem. The "pass" meant a crossing place, through a river or mountain. Most likely it refered to the defile (a steep-sided, narrow gorge) at Michmash at which the army would have been vulnerable to attack if Israel had mounted even a half-hearted defense.

Ramah and Gibeah were towns within seven miles of Jerusalem and the Assyrians found the people fleeing in fear.

Gallim, Laishah and Anathoth were within three miles of Jerusalem. Madmenah and Gebim were two days march from Jerusalem.

One day's march from Jerusalem, within sight of the capital of Israel, the Assyrian king and his army halted at Nob, "shaking his fist". God's fury brought a sudden, terrifying end to the Assyrian's march of arrogance:

Isaiah 10:33-34 (ESV) Behold, the Lord GOD of hosts will lop the boughs with terrifying power; the great in height will be hewn down, and the lofty will be brought low. He will cut down the thickets of the forest with an axe, and Lebanon will fall by the Majestic One.

Isaiah 10:26-27 (ESV) The LORD of hosts will wield against them a whip, as when he struck Midian at the rock of Oreb. And his staff will be over the sea, and he will lift it as he did in Egypt. And in that day his burden will depart from your shoulder, and his yoke from your neck.

The proud army of the King of Assyria was compared by the LORD to trees of a forest in Lebanon, and the slavemasters of Egypt.

In a single day the arrogant forest was decimated and the cruel slavemasters destroyed.

Israel was wicked, and God used the animosity and greed of other nations to punish Israel for their sin. But if those other nations become drunk with the power given them, if the punishers of wickedness themselves refuse to respect and revere the Almighty Sovereign God Who created them, they will suffer an even harsher judgement.

Only a remnant of the people of Israel would survive the LORD's wrath against their godlessness.

Isaiah 10:22 (ESV) For though your people Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will return. Destruction is decreed, overflowing with righteousness.

At first glance it seems odd to consider the word "remnant" as being derived from a word meaning to be redundant. But "remnant" is often used in the Bible as we use the word "rest", to describe something additional, something added to another group.

1 Chronicles 11:8 (ESV) And he built the city all around from the Millo in complete circuit, and Joab repaired the rest of the city.

Ezra 4:7 (ESV) In the days of Artaxerxes, Bishlam and Mithredath and Tabeel and the rest of their associates wrote to Artaxerxes king of Persia. The letter was written in Aramaic and translated.

God had pronounced woe to the people of Israel, the iniquitous, godless ones who had abandoned faith in God in favor of serving foreign nations and their gods. Most of Israel would die in their idolatrous unbelief. But there was another group of people who were part of Israel, the "rest" of the people who would forsake their idolatry.

Isaiah 10:20-21 (ESV) In that day the remnant of Israel and the survivors of the house of Jacob will no more lean on him who struck them, but will lean on the LORD, the Holy One of Israel, in truth. A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God.

"Lean" can describe a person sitting back against a tree, resting in the shade (Genesis 18:4). A blind man supported himself by leaning on the pillars of a house (Numbers 21:15). An elder king leaned upon the arm of a trusted aide when walking (2 Kings 5:18).

In the early days of Israel's civil war, Judah leaned upon God for support in their war with the northern state:

2 Chronicles 13:18 (ESV) The men of Israel were subdued at that time, and the men of Judah prevailed, because they relied on the LORD, the God of their fathers.

Faced with an overwhelming invasion from Ethiopia, Asa King of Judah cried aloud his prayer of leaning upon God:

2 Chronicles 14:11 (ESV) And Asa cried to the LORD his God, "O LORD, there is none like you to help, between the mighty and the weak. Help us, O LORD our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this multitude. O LORD, you are our God; let not man prevail against you."

Now, however, in Isaiah's time, Israel had been faithlessly leaning upon "him who had struck them". The northern state, Israel, had joined with Syria in a bid to overrun the southern state, Judah (Isaiah 7:1). Judah attempted to join with Assyria to defend herself from Israel and Syria (2 Kings 16:5). Assyria took advantage of Israel's civil war and struck fast, intending to capture all of Israel, both northern and southern states, from Samaria to Jerusalem:

Isaiah 10:7-11 (ESV) It is in his heart to destroy, and to cut off nations not a few; for he says: "Are not my commanders all kings? Is not Calno like Carchemish? Is not Hamath like Arpad? Is not Samaria like Damascus? As my hand has reached to the kingdoms of the idols, whose carved images were greater than those of Jerusalem and Samaria, shall I not do to Jerusalem and her idols as I have done to Samaria and her images?"

However, in "that day", the day of God's intervention and judgement of wickedness, there will be a part, a remnant of Israel who will survive the war and return in faith to the LORD as their support.

What do you think?

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Monday, September 8, 2014

Isaiah 10 (Part 1 of 2): Condemnation of Oppression

Isaiah 10 (Part 1 of 2): Condemnation of Oppression

Previously...

In chapter 9, Isaiah spoke of those without hope in the LORD who would suffer the gloom of anguish, but for those once considered to be contemptible there would be no such gloom. A Child would come from Zebulun Naphtali, a Son Who would be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace.

Yet the present circumstances are dire. God's anger brings Assyrians, Syrians and Philistines against Israel. The horrors of war and genocide become terrifying symbols of Israel's moral and spiritual wickedness against the LORD.

Now...

In chapter 10, Isaiah warns of woe to those who oppress and rob the defenseless, the poor and the needy. The invading army of Assyria is God's tool of anger against the people of Israel. Assyria spoils, seizes and tread upon the godless nation of Israel, all according to God's plan.

But the tool itself is in danger of judgement. The king of Assyria is arrogant, boasting of his unconquerable army and limitless power. Assyria goes beyond invasion and control, seeking to destroy utterly all of Israel and the surrounding nations. God allows the tribulation upon Israel at the hands of the Assyrians, but not utter destruction. God will send wasting sickness and burning fire throughout the Assyrian army, halting the invasion in a single day.

Then God's righteous wrath will have come to an end. The surviving remnant of Israel will fully return to faith and fealty to the Lord GOD alone. The hill of Jerusalem will be safe.

=== Main Idea #1 ===

God furiously condemned Israel's iniquitous, godless oppression of the needy and poor

Isaiah 10:1-2 (ESV) Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees, and the writers who keep writing oppression, to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be their spoil, and that they may make the fatherless their prey!

People of authority and power were creating "iniquitous" laws, regulations that ultimately brought nothing good to those affected. Justice was being perverted, poor people were robbed, widows and orphans were made destitute.

"Iniquitous" does not imply decrees that were life-threatening or torturous, but it does suggest that they wore the people down, giving nothing good but only laborious irritation.

Isaiah will later amplify the word "iniquitous":

Isaiah 32:6 (ESV) For the fool speaks folly, and his heart is busy with iniquity, to practice ungodliness, to utter error concerning the LORD, to leave the craving of the hungry unsatisfied, and to deprive the thirsty of drink.

"Iniquitous" laws are ungodly, filled with error, and utterly worthless to those who are hungry or thirsty. David used the word to describe evildoers who "eat up" people:

Psalm 14:4 (ESV) Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers who eat up my people as they eat bread and do not call upon the LORD?

"Evildoers" is the same Hebrew word as "iniquitous".

Isaiah earlier used the same word, translated as "iniquity", to condemn vain religious practices:

Isaiah 1:12-14 (ESV) When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts? Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations- I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.

God described the nation of Israel as godless.

"Godless" is a harsh condemnation of Israel's sin of being impious, which means not showing respect or reverence, or being without a sense of duty or loyalty to God.

This is the woe that is announced in verse one. Israel is the godless nation and Assyria is God's rod of correction.

Notice that the Lord administers the rod of correction with fury and anger:

Isaiah 10:5-6 (ESV) Ah, Assyria, the rod of my anger; the staff in their hands is my fury! Against a godless nation I send him, and against the people of my wrath I command him, to take spoil and seize plunder, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets.

The Lord is not quietly displeased with his people; he's not "disappointed" or "concerned". The Lord is furious. He's like a person enraged, nostrils flared, breathing hard and foaming at the mouth.

Generations earlier the Lord had warned Israel of his anger against oppression:

Exodus 22:21-24 (ESV) You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless.

God's wrath can destroy, but it can also save:

2 Samuel 22:7-9, 17-20 (ESV) In my distress I called upon the LORD; to my God I called. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry came to his ears. "Then the earth reeled and rocked; the foundations of the heavens trembled and quaked, because he was angry. Smoke went up from his nostrils, and devouring fire from his mouth; glowing coals flamed forth from him...He sent from on high, he took me; he drew me out of many waters. He rescued me from my strong enemy, from those who hated me, for they were too mighty for me. They confronted me in the day of my calamity, but the LORD was my support. He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me.

God's wrath is fierce, yet his purpose is to bring us to faith, worship and obedience:

2 Chronicles 30:6-8 (ESV) O people of Israel, return to the LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, that he may turn again to the remnant of you who have escaped from the hand of the kings of Assyria. Do not be like your fathers and your brothers, who were faithless to the LORD God of their fathers, so that he made them a desolation, as you see. Do not now be stiff-necked as your fathers were, but yield yourselves to the LORD and come to his sanctuary, which he has consecrated forever, and serve the LORD your God, that his fierce anger may turn away from you.

Finally, God's fury does not erupt without long endurance and patient longsuffering on God's part:

Nehemiah 9:16-17 (ESV) Our fathers acted presumptuously and stiffened their neck and did not obey your commandments. They refused to obey and were not mindful of the wonders that you performed among them, but they stiffened their neck and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them.

What do you think?

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Monday, August 4, 2014

Isaiah 9, Part 2: The LORD's Anger (Verses 8-21)

Isaiah 9, Part 2: The LORD's Anger

Verses 8-21

Despite the promise of a future Saviour the reality of the moment is that Israel is divided by civil war and foreign intrigue.

Isaiah 9:8-10 (ESV) The Lord has sent a word against Jacob, and it will fall on Israel; and all the people will know, Ephraim and the inhabitants of Samaria, who say in pride and in arrogance of heart: “The bricks have fallen, but we will build with dressed stones; the sycamores have been cut down, but we will put cedars in their place.”

Isaiah's message is against those in Israel who are swollen with pride and arrogance. "Bricks have fallen" refers to their current anguish, the country's convulsive civil unrest, the rioting and the bloodshed, loss of support and supply, and the desolation described in the previous chapters of this book.

The people of northern Israel know their condition is pathetic, but still they do not turn to the LORD. Their hope of rebuilding with "dressed stones" and "cedars" is figurative for the wealth and security they envision after conquering Judah with the help of Syria.

But Syria has powerful enemies which the LORD will use:

Isaiah 9:11 (ESV) But the LORD raises the adversaries of Rezin against him, and stirs up his enemies.

Rezin was the king of Syria at the time, allied with northern Israel and Philistine against southern Israel (Judah). Through Isaiah the LORD is warning Israel and Syria of his growing anger:

Isaiah 9:12-17 (ESV) The Syrians on the east and the Philistines on the west devour Israel with open mouth. For all this his anger has not turned away, and his hand is stretched out still. The people did not turn to him who struck them, nor inquire of the LORD of hosts. So the LORD cut off from Israel head and tail, palm branch and reed in one day— the elder and honored man is the head, and the prophet who teaches lies is the tail; for those who guide this people have been leading them astray, and those who are guided by them are swallowed up. Therefore the Lord does not rejoice over their young men, and has no compassion on their fatherless and widows; for everyone is godless and an evildoer, and every mouth speaks folly. For all this his anger has not turned away, and his hand is stretched out still.

Refusal to seek the LORD is refusal of his compassion. Young, old, orphan or widow, high or low, all will be thrown in violent conflict with little hope of mercy.

Isaiah 9:17 (ESV) Everyone is godless and an evildoer, and every mouth speaks folly. For all this his anger has not turned away, and his hand is stretched out still.

"Godless" means soiled with sin. English has two words that appear the same, but with quite different meanings. "Soil" as a noun is used to describe the upper layer of earth in which plants grow. The word comes from Latin solum, ground. "Soil" as a verb describes the action of making something dirty, specifically by defecating in or on it. The word comes from Old French soiller, a muddy wallow for wild boar.

The soiling of defecation is a deep stain, a malodorous damage to cloth that cannot be easily washed away. To be soiled with sin is a deep stain upon one's soul, a spiritual stench that cannot easily be removed.

The root of the word translated as "folly" means to wilt or faint, as if everyone spoke weakly.

What do you think?

This chapter ends with heartrending violence.

Isaiah 9:18-21 (ESV) For wickedness burns like a fire; it consumes briers and thorns; it kindles the thickets of the forest, and they roll upward in a column of smoke. Through the wrath of the LORD of hosts the land is scorched, and the people are like fuel for the fire; no one spares another. They slice meat on the right, but are still hungry, and they devour on the left, but are not satisfied; each devours the flesh of his own arm, Manasseh devours Ephraim, and Ephraim devours Manasseh; together they are against Judah. For all this his anger has not turned away, and his hand is stretched out still.

The wickedness of the people, and God's wrath, together create a violent firestorm that destroys land and people. Despite Isaiah's warning that God will punish wickedness, the people persist in destroying one another in hungry, unsatisfied greed and intrigue.

Manassseh and Ephraim were the two sons of Joseph. The two tribes should have been very close, sharing Joseph's heritage and faith. But wickedness had fouled even the closest relationships, turning families against one another.

Wickedness burns like a fire, and the wrath of the LORD scorches the land.

What do you think?

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Isaiah 9, Part 1: The Promised Prince

Isaiah 9, Part 1: The Promised Prince (verses 1-7)

Previously in chapter 8:

With his child's name as an omen, Isaiah responded to God's inspiration and preached a warning to "this people", the Jews in Israel and Judah. They would be inundated by an invasion from Assyria, shattering their idolatrous fear and superstition. Distress, darkness and gloom would bring the people anguish.

Overview of chapter 9:

Those without hope in the LORD would suffer the gloom of anguish, but for those once thought contemptible there will be no such gloom. A Child would come from Zebulun Naphtali, a Son Who would be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace.

Yet the present circumstances are dire. God's anger brings Assyrians, Syrians and Philistines against Israel. The horrors of war and genocide become terrifying symbols of Israel's moral and spiritual wickedness against the LORD.

The Promised Prince of Peace (verses 1-7)

In the "former time" the LORD brought into contempt Zebulun and Naphtali (Isaiah 9:1).

A good example of "contempt" is seen early in the Old Testament, in Hagar's attitude toward Sarai:

Genesis 16:3-4 (ESV) So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her servant, and gave her to Abram her husband as a wife. And he went in to Hagar, and she conceived. And when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress.

Evidently, the people of Zebulun and Naphtali had previously been viewed with contempt by other Israelite tribes who felt themselves more numerous, more affluent, or more favored by God.

Scripture suggests a few reasons why the people of Zebulun and Naphtali were long considered to be light or trifling, and of little import. The tribe's founder, Zebulun, was a son of Leah, who was Jacob's first wife, but not his first love. Zebulun's borders allowed only a small bit of land, squeezed by Manasser to the south, Naphtali to the north, and Asher and Issachar on either side. When Moses and Joshua led the Israelites into Canaan, Zebulun as a tribe failed to completely drive out their enemies (Judges 1:30).

The child Naphtali was technically a son of Rachel, Jacob's favored wife, but was actually born of Rachel's servant, Bilhah (Genesis 30:7-8). The Naphtali tribe also failed to drive out their appointed enemies in Canaan (Judges 1:33). During the years of civil war, Naphtali was conquered by Syria, the people taken captive and exiled to Assyria(1 kings 15:20). It could easily be that Zebulun and Naphtali would be seen as "foreign", ruined by the "dogs" of a Gentile nation.

But Isaiah promised glory for this contemptible region of Israel:

Isaiah 9:1-3 (ESV) But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil.

The ostracized peoples of Zebulun and Naphtali would experience something glorious and great, something that would give them reason to rejoice with joy and gladness.

Note: The KJV translation seems confusing:

Isaiah 9:3 (KJV) Thou hast multiplied the nation, and not increased the joy: they joy before thee according to the joy in harvest, and as men rejoice when they divide the spoil.

"Not increased the joy" probably refers to the contrast between a contemptible past and a glorious future, as in "Whose joy thou hadst not increased" in the former time (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary).

"Blithe" means a casual and cheerful indifference that could be considered callous or improper.

Isaiah foresaw a time of incredible joy for the little, trivial and contemptible tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali...joy that would make them seem indifferent and forgetful of their former days of darkness and anguish.

That future day would be ushered in by the triumph of a Child:

Isaiah 9:4-7 (ESV) For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

Oppression and war would cease under the government of the Son, the "Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace". This Saviour would be a descendent of David the King and would reign for eternity.

And this Saviour would first appear in the formerly "dark" regions of Zebulun and Naphtali, a land filled with Jews made impure and contemptible with Gentile blood.

Matthew 4:12-17 (ESV) Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles — the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Jesus was born in Bethlehem, a city of the Jewish tribe of Judah. But shortly after his birth his parents fled Herod's persecution, escaping to Egypt. When it was safe, the family returned to Israel, settling in the district of Galilee, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali, the once-contemptible land. It was in Galilee that the light of the gospel first shone.

Isaiah's message of hope and joy would take centuries to bear fruit for the people who were then experiencing oppression, war, death and disease. But the promise would be fulfilled...eventually.

What do you think?

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