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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?

Photo provided by Wikimedia Commons, public domain

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.