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Monday, November 30, 2015

John 18: Jesus Knows, Jesus Keeps, Jesus Controls

John 18: Jesus Knows, Jesus Keeps, Jesus Controls

Too many times my days seem like a blur of tension, expecting something to be difficult or disappointing, struggling with things that are difficult and disappointing, or looking back with resentment at things that were difficult and disappointing.

In other words, I often act as if I am living alone, with no guidance or support from heaven. I act as if I know little about God as Creator and Father. I stress out as if Jesus were not my Lord, and as if I had no divine Helper.

I act as if I'm ignorant.

From this passage we can see how false those emotions are, and we can draw three big ideas about Jesus:

  • Jesus knows everything that will happen,
  • and all that belongs to him he keeps,
  • and he controls all events.

Big Idea #1: Jesus knows all that will happen.

John 18:4 (ESV) Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, “Whom do you seek?”

This same word appears in an earlier chapter:

Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. John 13:1

Some might point out that these references specify only that Jesus know what would happen to him, not what would happen to others not connected with him. However, everything is connected to Jesus:

In these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, Hebrews 1:2-3

Jesus has been given all things: the earth, heaven...and us. We live and breathe only by the power given us as he upholds the universe!

So, Jesus knows all that will happen. He knows when and how and why each specific difficulty and disappointment will hit us.

However, some might wonder if knowing leads to caring.

Big Idea #2: Jesus keeps (guards) all those who belong to him.

John 18:9 (ESV) This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken: “Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one.”

Not one person given to Jesus has been given to destruction or lost to ruin, death or punishment.

Jesus earlier said,

While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. John 17:12

More than only knowing what specific things will happen to those that concern him, Jesus cares for them. He has his eye upon them always, guarding and preserving them from destruction, ruin, punishment and death. We may suffer difficulties and disappointments, even overwhelming tragedy on earth, but our ultimate destiny is not destruction, ruin, punishment and death.

However, some might ask, "If Jesus knows, and he cares, why allow these earthly difficulties and disappointments? Why allow overwhelming tragedy on earth? Does not the One Who knows and cares have control over these events?"

Big Idea #3: Jesus willingly faced pain and death because he knew it was according to the plan of God the Father.

John 18:11 (ESV) So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?”

Repeatedly, Jesus had said to his disciples that he was on a mission from God:

My Father is working until now, and I am working. John 5:17

Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. John 5:19-20

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. John 5:30

For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. John 6:38

And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.”John 8:29

For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father” John 10:17-18

I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. John 14:31

I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. John 17:4

The One Who created all things and upholds all things moment by moment, absolute control over all things and all events, willingly submitted himself to fulfilling a mission given him by his Father. The mission would bring overwhelming personal tragedy, and Jesus was well aware of the certainty of pain and disappointment:

Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. John 12:27

But Jesus knew the plan. He knew that God was good, and his power was complete.

What does this all mean for us?

If this is all true (and we believe it is) what should be our response? What things should we ask God to change concerning our hearts, minds and daily lives?

Jesus knows,
Jesus cares,
Jesus controls.

Thank God!

photo credit: YOU via photopin (license)

Monday, May 4, 2015

Isaiah 20: Dismayed and Ashamed

Isaiah 20: Dismayed and Ashamed

What's gone before...

Isaiah described a future condition of Egypt, a time of major loss, violence and confusion, ending in a radical transformation of their religious foundation. Egypt, with Assyria, would worship the God of Israel.

Now, in Chapter 20...

The LORD commands Isaiah to walk naked and barefoot for three years as a shocking sign against Egypt and Ethiopia.

Isaiah 20:1-6 (ESV) In the year that the commander in chief, who was sent by Sargon the king of Assyria, came to Ashdod and fought against it and captured it — at that time the LORD spoke by Isaiah the son of Amoz, saying, "Go, and loose the sackcloth from your waist and take off your sandals from your feet," and he did so, walking naked and barefoot. Then the LORD said, "As my servant Isaiah has walked naked and barefoot for three years as a sign and a portent against Egypt and Cush, so shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptian captives and the Cushite exiles, both the young and the old, naked and barefoot, with buttocks uncovered, the nakedness of Egypt. Then they shall be dismayed and ashamed because of Cush their hope and of Egypt their boast. And the inhabitants of this coastland will say in that day, Behold, this is what has happened to those in whom we hoped and to whom we fled for help to be delivered from the king of Assyria! And we, how shall we escape?"

Sargon attacked Ashdod, a city of Philistine, near Judea on the west coast of the Mediterranean Sea, the gateway to Egypt and Ethiopia. In 712 B.C. Azuri King of Philistine refused to pay tribute to Assyria, likely with support of nearby Israel and Judah. Sargon moved quickly to quell this rebellion (A History of Israel, Part VI).

As the siege against Ashdod began, the LORD commanded Isaiah to walk naked and barefoot, stripping off the sackcloth from his waist and the sandals from his feet.

Isaiah often spoke of sackcloth:

Isaiah 3:24 (ESV) Instead of perfume there will be rottenness; and instead of a belt, a rope; and instead of well-set hair, baldness; and instead of a rich robe, a skirt of sackcloth; and branding instead of beauty.

Isaiah 15:3 (ESV) in the streets they wear sackcloth; on the housetops and in the squares everyone wails and melts in tears.

Isaiah 22:12 (ESV) In that day the Lord GOD of hosts called for weeping and mourning, for baldness and wearing sackcloth;

Isaiah 50:3 (ESV) I clothe the heavens with blackness and make sackcloth their covering.”

Isaiah 58:5 (ESV) Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the LORD?

Wearing sackcloth was a sign of mourning, an expression of loss or devestation. It was symbolic of a person's desperate attempt to cover their shame with what they had left after a great loss. The only thing more shameful than wearing sackcloth was wearing nothing.

Isaiah 20:3-4 (ESV) As my servant Isaiah has walked naked and barefoot for three years as a sign and a portent against Egypt and Cush, so shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptian captives and the Cushite exiles, both the young and the old, naked and barefoot, with buttocks uncovered, the nakedness of Egypt.

The nakedness of Isaiah was a shocking proclamation of the future exile of Egypt and Cush (Ethiopia). With the gateway of Ashdod smashed open, Assyria would crush the nations to the south of the Mediterranean Sea, taking most of the population captive back to Assyria.

Who is "They"?

Isaiah 20:5-6 (ESV) Then they shall be dismayed and ashamed because of Cush their hope and of Egypt their boast. And the inhabitants of this coastland will say in that day, Behold, this is what has happened to those in whom we hoped and to whom we fled for help to be delivered from the king of Assyria! And we, how shall we escape?

The naked exiles taken prisoner by Assyria would bring dismay and shame to a people referred here as "they", and "inhabitants of this coastland".

This must be a direct reference to the Philistine nation being besieged by Assyria. The Philistines must have been hoping for support from Egypt and Ethiopis.

Indirectly, "they" would also refer to those in Judea who were hoping for Egypt and Ethiopian resistance against Assyria. Judah was still paying tribute to Assyria, but it must have galled them, and they likely would be hoping for insurrection to begin in Egypt and Ethiopia.

This chapter must be considered closely with the preceeding chapter. Previously, the LORD directed Isaiah to prophetically describe a future in which Egypt, Assyria and Israel would join in common worship of the God of Israel. The LORD blessed Egypt as "my people", and Assyria as "the work of my hands", and Israel as "my inheritance". Now, in chapter 20, Egypt is described as being invaded and conquered by Assyria, its people stripped naked and exiled far from their homeland.

What do you think?

By Alex E. Proimos (http://www.flickr.com/photos/proimos/4199675334/) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, April 27, 2015

Isaiah 19, Part Two: In That Day

Isaiah 19, Part Two: In That Day

Isaiah 19:16-25

What's gone before...

In the previous 15 verses of this chapter Isaiah declared an oracle ("massa", a heavy burden or a song of doom) concerning Egypt. The LORD would stir up conflict with the nation, confounding their leadership, bringing devestation to Egypt's political, economic and geographic foundations.

Now, in Part Two...

Isaiah repeats the phrase "In that day" six times in this passage, declaring six specific events or conditions that would befall the Egyptians when the LORD brings war to their nation.

  • In that day the Egyptians will be like women...
  • In that day there will be five cities...
  • In that day there will be an altar...
  • In that day the Egyptians will know...
  • In that day there will be a highway...
  • In that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria...

"In that day" occurs over 2000 times in the Old Testament. The first instance refers to the name given to the division between light and darkness made during creation of the first day on earth (Genesis 1:5). It is most commonly translated as "day" in the Old Testament. It could also represent an unspecified number of days, translated as "time":

Genesis 4:3 (ESV) In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground...

The context of Isaiah's 19th chapter is that of a period of time: events that will occur over many literal days, but together form a single period of time, a "day".

In That Day Egyptians Will Be Like Women

Isaiah 19:16-17 (ESV) In that day the Egyptians will be like women, and tremble with fear before the hand that the LORD of hosts shakes over them. And the land of Judah will become a terror to the Egyptians. Everyone to whom it is mentioned will fear because of the purpose that the LORD of hosts has purposed against them.

There are at least 11 instances of phrases similar to this one. Six of them refer to the cries of pain felt during childbirth. One instance refers to a woman mourning for the dead. Four references connect women with unspecified trembling, weakeness or fear.

Judah would become a terror to the Egyptians. This likely refers to the tenuous alliance between Judah's King Hezekiah and Assyria.

2 Kings 18:13-14 (ESV) In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and took them. And Hezekiah king of Judah sent to the king of Assyria at Lachish, saying, "I have done wrong; withdraw from me. Whatever you impose on me I will bear."

King Sennacherib of Assyria took 46 cities in Judah and nearly emptied the royal treasury of Hezekiah (A History of Israel, Chapter 25, by Walter C. Kaiser, JR.). Having heard Isaiah's song of doom against them, Egyptian leaders would certainly have looked eastward toward Judah with fear.

In That Day There Will Be Five Cities

Isaiah 19:18 (ESV) In that day there will be five cities in the land of Egypt that speak the language of Canaan and swear allegiance to the LORD of hosts. One of these will be called the City of Destruction.

During this time of great upheaval in Egypt, five major cities would embrace the faith of Judah, the worship of the God of the Hebrews. Which cities in Egypt these were, or will be, is unknown.

In That Day There Will Be An Altar

Isaiah 19:19-20 (ESV) In that day there will be an altar to the LORD in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar to the LORD at its border. It will be a sign and a witness to the LORD of hosts in the land of Egypt. When they cry to the LORD because of oppressors, he will send them a savior and defender, and deliver them.

The five cities would ignite a radical change in Egypt's religious foundation. Out of the midst of oppression the LORD would bring safety and freedom. It would be a memorable event, a sudden change, marked with a great altar (a place of religious sacrifice), a pillar (a standing stone), a sign or signal, as a witness to all Egyptian generations of the LORD's great rescue.

This is astounding. No specific comparison can be made to an historical event concerning this divine rescue and radical restoration of faith in Almighty God. The Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary supposes this might have been the conquest of Alexander the Great over Babylon, bringing a measure of freedom to Egypt. But to this date there is no altar, pillar, sign or witness in Egypt that can be connected with Isaiah's prophecy.

Perhaps this chapter is typical of much of Isaiah's writings. Historical evidence of past events that serve as foreshadowing of future fulfillment of prophecy.

In that day the Egyptians will know

Isaiah 19:21-22 (ESV) And the LORD will make himself known to the Egyptians, and the Egyptians will know the LORD in that day and worship with sacrifice and offering, and they will make vows to the LORD and perform them. And the LORD will strike Egypt, striking and healing, and they will return to the LORD, and he will listen to their pleas for mercy and heal them.

"Known" and "know" are the same word in Hebrew. The LORD would instruct Egypt in a most violent manner, forcibly mending their idolatrous hears, turning them back, making them see him as their only God.

In That Day There Will Be A Highway

Isaiah 19:23 (ESV) In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria, and Assyria will come into Egypt, and Egypt into Assyria, and the Egyptians will worship with the Assyrians.

"Turnpike" historically was a road on which a toll was collected, often with a spiked barrier across as a defense against sudden attack (The New Oxford American Dictionary). The context of this passage emphasizes ease of travel, rather than gates.

Isaiah spoke earlier of a highway between Assyria and Egypt:

Isaiah 11:16 (KJV) And there shall be an highway for the remnant of his people, which shall be left, from Assyria; like as it was to Israel in the day that he came up out of the land of Egypt.

This reference is to the Hebrew exodus out of captivity in Egypt, on dry land, across a sea miraculously swept clear of water (Exodus 14).

Will the highway be for Jews returning to their homeland from exile in Assyria and Egypt? Or will the nations of Assyria and Egypt as a whole turn to the God of the Jews?

The latter is supported by the final passage:

In That Day Israel Will Be The Third With Egypt And Assyria

Isaiah 19:24-25 (ESV) In that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the LORD of hosts has blessed, saying, "Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance."

Egypt is described as the LORD's people, Assyria as the LORD's work, and Israel as the LORD's inheritance.

Patrimony refers to something inherited from one's father or male ancestor.

Each of these three different relationships with God are intended to be a blessing "in the midst of the earth".

For an example of this word used as "curse", see Job 2:9.

"My people" occurs over 200 times, nearly all speaking specifically of Israel or Christians.

"Work of my hands" occurs only two other times, in reference specically to Israel.

"My inheritance" occurs five times, all in reference to Israel.

References to Egypt and Assyria as "my people" or "the work of my hands" likely refers to the worshippers of the LORD who were citizens of those nations. The Egyptian and Assyrian believers would join with those who remained in Israel.

These three nations would become centers of faith in the Almighty LORD, the God of Israel, Creator and Sustainer of all the earth.

What do you think?

Photo by U.S. Pacific Fleet, Creative Commons

Monday, April 13, 2015

Isaiah 19, Part One: Maker of War

Isaiah 19, Part One: Maker of War

Isaiah 19:1-15

Previously, in Chapter 18...

God inspired Isaiah to urge ambassadors from Cush (Ethiopia) to go to Babylonia, a nation "tall and smooth", a people feared "near and far", a nation "mighty and conquering." They were to tell of God's mighty work in delivering Jerusalem from the Assyrian army.

Now, in Chapter 19, verses 1 through 15...

Isaiah issues a harsh word of doom for Egypt.

Isaiah 19:1-4 (ESV) An oracle concerning Egypt. Behold, the LORD is riding on a swift cloud and comes to Egypt; and the idols of Egypt will tremble at his presence, and the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them. And I will stir up Egyptians against Egyptians, and they will fight, each against another and each against his neighbor, city against city, kingdom against kingdom; and the spirit of the Egyptians within them will be emptied out, and I will confound their counsel; and they will inquire of the idols and the sorcerers, and the mediums and the necromancers; and I will give over the Egyptians into the hand of a hard master, and a fierce king will rule over them, declares the Lord GOD of hosts.

Egypt would be torn apart by civil war. Their religious and political foundation would crumble, and they would become enslaved to "a hard master, and a fierce king".

The land of Egypt would become a desert.

Isaiah 19:5-10 (ESV) And the waters of the sea will be dried up, and the river will be dry and parched, and its canals will become foul, and the branches of Egypt’s Nile will diminish and dry up, reeds and rushes will rot away. There will be bare places by the Nile, on the brink of the Nile, and all that is sown by the Nile will be parched, will be driven away, and will be no more. The fishermen will mourn and lament, all who cast a hook in the Nile; and they will languish who spread nets on the water. The workers in combed flax will be in despair, and the weavers of white cotton. Those who are the pillars of the land will be crushed, and all who work for pay will be grieved.

The land of Egypt would become a desert, with a dead Nile River, without fish or farms. The people will be crushed and grieved.

The leaders of Egypt would become worthless.

Isaiah 19:11-15 (ESV) The princes of Zoan are utterly foolish; the wisest counselors of Pharaoh give stupid counsel. How can you say to Pharaoh, “I am a son of the wise, a son of ancient kings”? Where then are your wise men? Let them tell you that they might know what the LORD of hosts has purposed against Egypt. The princes of Zoan have become fools, and the princes of Memphis are deluded; those who are the cornerstones of her tribes have made Egypt stagger. The LORD has mingled within her a spirit of confusion, and they will make Egypt stagger in all its deeds, as a drunken man staggers in his vomit. And there will be nothing for Egypt that head or tail, palm branch or reed, may do.

The leaders of Egypt would become perversely silly, nothing more than brute animals in their understanding. Their words would be as from a drunken man.

The leadership of Egypt was directly connected with their religion.

"The priests were the usual "counselors" of the Egyptian king. He was generally chosen from the priestly caste, or, if from the warrior caste, he was admitted into the sacred order, and was called a priest. The priests are, therefore, meant by the expression, "son of the wise, and of ancient kings" (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary)

Pharoah was the the chief priest among all the priestly caste of advisors. Their religion dictated the pharoah's rule.

How would Egypt's fall begin? Who was the "fierce king"?

"In Isa 19:1, the invasion of Egypt is represented as caused by "the Lord"; and in Isa 19:17, "Judah" is spoken of as "a terror to Egypt," which it could hardly have been by itself. Probably, therefore, the Assyrian invasion of Egypt under Sargon, when Judah was the ally of Assyria, and Hezekiah had not yet refused tribute as he did in the beginning of Sennacherib's reign, is meant. That Assyria was in Isaiah's mind appears from the way in which it is joined with Israel and Egypt in the worship of Jehovah (Isa 19:24, 25). Thus the dissensions referred to (Isa 19:2) allude to the time of the withdrawal of the Ethiopians from Lower Egypt, probably not without a struggle, especially between 722-715 B.C., answering to 718 B.C., when Sethos usurped the throne and entered on the contest with the military caste, by the aid of the town populations: when the Saitic dynasty was another cause of division. Sargon's reign was between 722-715 B.C. answering to 718 B.C., when Sethos usurped his throne." (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary

Isaiah will later describe Egypt as being invaded and controlled by a king from Assyria:

Isaiah 20:1,4 (ESV) In the year that the commander in chief, who was sent by Sargon the king of Assyria, came to Ashdod and fought against it and captured it...so shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptian captives and the Cushite exiles, both the young and the old, naked and barefoot, with buttocks uncovered, the nakedness of Egypt.

Ashdod was a major city of the Philistines, allies of Egypt. The taking of Ashdod was a direct threat against Egypt. (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary)

Egypt at this time was not at all unified. Three distinct dynasties struggeled to control the nation. The in-fighting broke Egypt into two separate states: the north and the south, much like what happened to Israel and Judah. The northern dynasty sought control of the eastern Mediterranean Sea commerce, and thus opposed any Assyrian encroachment.

Assyria herself was at this time beginning to fray at the edges. Repeated rebellion from Babylonia on her eastern border was eroding Assyria's military and economic foundation.

"Assyrian control over Judah during the previous century was now giving way to Egyptian dominance. Egyptian policy changed after the fall of Nineveh in 611 b.c. No longer was Assyria painted as the villain Egypt had experienced in days past. The emergence of Babylon as the new power demanded that Egypt side with Assyria." (A History of Israel, Chapter 26, 1998 by Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.)

It is important to see God's hand behind the disintegration of Egypt.

  • I will stir up Egyptians against Egyptians...
  • I will confound their counsel...
  • I will give over the Egyptians into the hand of a hard master, and a fierce king will rule over them, declares the Lord GOD of hosts. (Isaiah 19:2-4)

God would create a tangled web of confusion and fear throughout Egypt's population. He would swallow up their plans and assumptions, making their counsel of no effect. He would allow a "had master and fierce king" to take control of their lives.

God would make war within Egypt. Why?

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 17:7-8 (ESV) In that day man will look to his Maker, and his eyes will look on the Holy One of Israel. He will not look to the altars, the work of his hands, and he will not look on what his own fingers have made, either the Asherim or the altars of incense.

Isaiah 17:10 (ESV) For you have forgotten the God of your salvation and have not remembered the Rock of your refuge; therefore, though you plant pleasant plants and sow the vine-branch of a stranger.

God desires that all people, of every nation, language and culture, remember their Maker and exalt him as their Strength and Song.

Isaiah 12:1-4 (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. 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.” With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day: “Give thanks to the LORD, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted."

Through fire and blood the nations will one day assemble together under the banner held high by Israel: The LORD is Our God!

Isaiah 11:10-12 (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. 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.

Isaiah 5:15-16 (ESV) Man is humbled, and each one is brought low, and the eyes of the haughty are brought low. But the LORD of hosts is exalted in justice, and the Holy God shows himself holy in righteousness.

Isaiah 2:2-3 (ESV) It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths."

Israel, Moab, Syria, Cush, Egypt...all these nations experienced confusion, fear, violence and death as a result of forgetting their Creator.

What do you think?

photo credit: God of War iPhone wallpaper via photopin (license)

Monday, April 6, 2015

Isaiah 18, Part Three: The Signal

Isaiah 18, Part Three: The Signal

Isaiah had greeted ambassadors sent by a land of "whirring wings, beyond the rivers of Cush", probably referring to Ethiopia, south of Egypt.

The alliance between Judah, Egypt and Ethiopia was condemned by God. Isaiah foretold that nothing would result except shame and disgrace for Judah.

Now, Isaiah tells the ambassadors to look toward the east, to "a people feared near and far, a nation mighty and conquering..."

A People Feared Near and Far

Isaiah 18:2 (ESV) Go, you swift messengers, to a nation tall and smooth, to a people feared near and far, a nation mighty and conquering, whose land the rivers divide.

Who were the people "tall and smooth, a people feared near and far"?

This passage begins and ends with reference to a nation "tall and smooth...a people feared near and far":

Isaiah 18:2 (ESV) Go, you swift messengers, to a nation tall and smooth, to a people feared near and far, a nation mighty and conquering, whose land the rivers divide.

Isaiah 18:7 (ESV) Tribute will be brought to the LORD of hosts from a people tall and smooth, from a people feared near and far, a nation mighty and conquering, whose land the rivers divide, to Mount Zion, the place of the name of the LORD of hosts.

God, through Isaiah, urged the Egyptian/Ethiopian ambassadors to go to a mighty nation, a land of many people on the march, or expanding its borders at a rapid pace. The ambassadors were to proclaim a great victory ("A signal is raised on the mountains...come look! A trumpet is blown...listen!).

These "tall and smooth" people would later visit Jerusalem, bringing gifts.

There is reference in the historical book of 2 Kings, describing such a visit:

2 Kings 20:12 (ESV) At that time Merodach-baladan the son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent envoys with letters and a present to Hezekiah.

The representatives of Babylon had heard that Hezekiah had been miraculously healed of a serious illness:

2 Kings 20:1 (ESV) In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him and said to him, “Thus says the LORD, Set your house in order, for you shall die; you shall not recover.”

"In those days" refers the impending threat of invasion by the Assyrian army. Hezekiah had prayed, expressing his dependence upon God, and God had healed him:

2 Kings 20:5-6 (ESV) I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the LORD, and I will add fifteen years to your life. I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria, and I will defend this city for my own sake and for my servant David’s sake.

The Assyrian army encamped around Jerusalem was suddenly decimated by God.

2 Kings 19:35-36 (ESV) And that night the angel of the LORD went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. And when people arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies. Then Sennacherib king of Assyria departed.

Ambassadors from Babylon then traveled to Jerusalem, probably to inquire of this miraculous conquest over a mighty army.

Isaiah is describing how Jerusalem first drew attention from a mighty empire in the east. Babylon is not mentioned by name, only implied, making this chapter a divine "teaser", a dimly seen vision of Jerusalem's future.

But this is not the first reference to Babylon that can be found in Isaiah's book of visions. The judgement of Babylon was previously described in chapters 13-14:

Isaiah 13:19 (ESV) And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the splendor and pomp of the Chaldeans, will be like Sodom and Gomorrah when God overthrew them.

Isaiah 14:3-6 (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! The LORD has broken the staff of the wicked, the scepter of rulers, that struck the peoples in wrath with unceasing blows, that ruled the nations in anger with unrelenting persecution.

A people "tall and smooth", a people "feared near and far" would hear a report of divine intervention in human affairs, and would travel to Jerusalem to determine its veracity.

The rumour acted as a sort of signal:

Isaiah 18:3 (ESV) All you inhabitants of the world, you who dwell on the earth, when a signal is raised on the mountains, look! When a trumpet is blown, hear!

Isaiah urged Ethiopian ambassadors to go to Babylon with the news of Israel's miraculous victory over the Assyrian army.

If the ambassadors obeyed Isaiah, news of the sudden destruction of a mighty army would have come to the Babylonians as a short report, describing a major event. It would be as if a guard standing watch in Babylon suddenly spotted a flag raised on a hill several miles away, communicating a message of alarm or urgency.

What do you think?

U.S. Navy Photo by Photographer’s Mate 1st Class Greg Messier [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, March 30, 2015

Isaiah 18, Part Two: Four Kings

Isaiah 18, Part Two: Four Kings


At this point Isaiah's book may seem confusing. Judah and Israel, as well as Egypt, Cush, Canaan, Syria and Assyria all experienced changing alliances, defeats and victories, conquests and exile. Isaiah was prophet during the reign of many kings, and he was given visions spanning many decades, each with different circumstances and players.

It may be helpful to look at the pivotal events that occurred during the time of Isaiah.

Isaiah and the Four Kings

Isaiah lived during the years of 740 to 681 BC. He saw the rise and fall of at least six different kings of Judah, beginning with Azariah, and ending with Manasseh. The Book of Isaiah specifically deals with the days of four of these kings of Judah: Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah.

Uzziah And Jotham: Maintaining the Status Quo

Uzziah, whose name was a contraction of "Azariah", was the son of Amaziah. During his reign over the southern kingdom of Judah, and later that of his son, Jotham, the civil war between the northern state of Israel and Judah reached a climax. Pul (Phalluka), then king of Assyria, took advantage of the unrest to march upon Israel and Syria. The king of Israel, Menahem, attempted to persuade Pul to become an ally, offering a thousand talents of silver (about 75,000 pounds of weight). The bribe only forestalled the invasion. A few years later, Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria captured several major cities of Israel, carrying away the people as captives back to Assyria (2 Kings 15).

Uzziah and Jotham saw Israel invaded and ransacked, yet did nothing to strengthen their own kingdom against a similar attack. Both Uzziah and Jotham "did what was right in the eyes of the LORD", yet they apparently ignored what was happening a few miles to the north of them.

Ahaz: Compromise and Conspiracy

Jotham's son, Ahaz, became king of the southern kingdom of Judah and quickly obliterated any spiritual heritage taught him by his father and grandfather.

2 Kings 16:2-4 (ESV) Ahaz was twenty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem. And he did not do what was right in the eyes of the LORD his God, as his father David had done, but he walked in the way of the kings of Israel. He even burned his son as an offering, according to the despicable practices of the nations whom the LORD drove out before the people of Israel. And he sacrificed and made offerings on the high places and on the hills and under every green tree (2 Kings 16).

When the inevitable Assyrian attack upon Judah came, Ahaz panicked. He sent messengers to Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, offering an alliance in trade for protection, sending all the silver and gold that could be gathered from the temple and palace in Jerusalem. The proposal of an alliance required a state visit to Assyria, where Ahaz saw an opportunity to further ingratiate Juday with Assyria.

2 Kings 16:10-13 (ESV) When King Ahaz went to Damascus to meet Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, he saw the altar that was at Damascus. And King Ahaz sent to Uriah the priest a model of the altar, and its pattern, exact in all its details. And Uriah the priest built the altar; in accordance with all that King Ahaz had sent from Damascus, so Uriah the priest made it, before King Ahaz arrived from Damascus. And when the king came from Damascus, the king viewed the altar. Then the king drew near to the altar and went up on it and burned his burnt offering and his grain offering and poured his drink offering and threw the blood of his peace offerings on the altar.

Ahaz, king of Judah, forsook Jehovah Lord GOD Almighty and sought the favor of the Assyrian king and his gods (2 Kings 16).

Assyria appeared to honor the alliance, sparing Judah from invasion. Assyria continued to press into the northern kingdom. Samaria, the capitol city of of Israel was captured, all of the its population carried away to Assyria, and replaced by people brought from Assyrian-controlled cities: Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath and Sepharvaim (2 kings 17).

Under Assyrian control Israel became a cosmopolitan mix of religion and culture.

2 Kings 17:29-32 (ESV) Every nation still made gods of its own and put them in the shrines of the high places that the Samaritans had made, every nation in the cities in which they lived. The men of Babylon made Succoth-benoth, the men of Cuth made Nergal, the men of Hamath made Ashima, and the Avvites made Nibhaz and Tartak; and the Sepharvites burned their children in the fire to Adrammelech and Anammelech, the gods of Sepharvaim. They also feared the LORD and appointed from among themselves all sorts of people as priests of the high places, who sacrificed for them in the shrines of the high places.

Hezekiah: Resistance and Restoration

The death of Ahaz brought Hezekiah to the throne of the southern state of Judah. Hezekiah sought to cut all ties to Assyria, hoping to restore to Judah the political power, sovereignty and tradition faith they had enjoyed during the time of King David, when Israel was a single, united nation.

2 Kings 18:4-8 (ESV) He removed the high places and broke the pillars and cut down the Asherah. And he broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it (it was called Nehushtan). He trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel, so that there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him. For he held fast to the LORD. He did not depart from following him, but kept the commandments that the LORD commanded Moses. And the LORD was with him; wherever he went out, he prospered. He rebelled against the king of Assyria and would not serve him. He struck down the Philistines as far as Gaza and its territory, from watchtower to fortified city (2 Kings 18).

Hezekiah sought the reunification of Israel and Judah:

2 Chronicles 30:6-9 (ESV) So couriers went throughout all Israel and Judah with letters from the king and his princes, as the king had commanded, saying, “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. For if you return to the LORD, your brothers and your children will find compassion with their captors and return to this land. For the LORD your God is gracious and merciful and will not turn away his face from you, if you return to him.”

Hezekiah's overture of peace was not entirely successful:

2 Chronicles 30:10-11 (ESV) So the couriers went from city to city through the country of Ephraim and Manasseh, and as far as Zebulun, but they laughed them to scorn and mocked them. However, some men of Asher, of Manasseh, and of Zebulun humbled themselves and came to Jerusalem.

Hezekiah's bold moves toward reunification brought the attention of the king of Assyria:

2 Kings 18:13 (ESV) In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and took them.

Hezekiah attempted to fight back. He bought time by offering tribute:

2 Kings 18:14-15 (ESV) And Hezekiah king of Judah sent to the king of Assyria at Lachish, saying, “I have done wrong; withdraw from me. Whatever you impose on me I will bear.” And the king of Assyria required of Hezekiah king of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold. And Hezekiah gave him all the silver that was found in the house of the LORD and in the treasuries of the king’s house.

Hezekiah strengthened Jerusalem's defenses:

2 Chronicles 32:2-8 (ESV) And when Hezekiah saw that Sennacherib had come and intended to fight against Jerusalem, he planned with his officers and his mighty men to stop the water of the springs that were outside the city; and they helped him. A great many people were gathered, and they stopped all the springs and the brook that flowed through the land, saying, “Why should the kings of Assyria come and find much water?” He set to work resolutely and built up all the wall that was broken down and raised towers upon it, and outside it he built another wall, and he strengthened the Millo in the city of David. He also made weapons and shields in abundance. And he set combat commanders over the people and gathered them together to him in the square at the gate of the city and spoke encouragingly to them, saying, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or dismayed before the king of Assyria and all the horde that is with him, for there are more with us than with him. With him is an arm of flesh, but with us is the LORD our God, to help us and to fight our battles.” And the people took confidence from the words of Hezekiah king of Judah.

Hezekiah sought military support of Egypt, a strategy scorned by the captain of the Assyrian army:

2 Kings 18:21 (ESV) Behold, you are trusting now in Egypt, that broken reed of a staff, which will pierce the hand of any man who leans on it. Such is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who trust in him.

Four kings, four different responses to threats of harm and loss.

Ultimately, Judah was saved, not by strength or strategy, but by a miracle.

2 Kings 19:5-7 (ESV) When the servants of King Hezekiah came to Isaiah, Isaiah said to them, "Say to your master, Thus says the LORD: Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard, with which the servants of the king of Assyria have reviled me. Behold, I will put a spirit in him, so that he shall hear a rumor and return to his own land, and I will make him fall by the sword in his own land."

2 Kings 19:32-35 (ESV) Therefore thus says the LORD concerning the king of Assyria: "He shall not come into this city or shoot an arrow there, or come before it with a shield or cast up a siege mound against it. By the way that he came, by the same he shall return, and he shall not come into this city, declares the LORD. For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David." And that night the angel of the LORD went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. And when people arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies.

The defense of Judah against Assyria was successful, not by human means of strategy, intrigue or might, but through the sovereign power of God.

2 Kings 20:6 (ESV) I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria, and I will defend this city for my own sake and for my servant David’s sake.

The Four Kings

After this brief review of four kings that reigned over Judah during the time of Isaiah, it may be possible to characterize each king:

  • Uzziah and Jotham: Maintainers of the Status Quo
  • Ahaz: Breaker of Faith
  • Hezekiah: Restorer of Faith

What do you think?

Image of Isaiah, screenshot from Wahoo.art.

Image of Uzziah published by Guillaume Rouille(1518?-1589) ("Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum ") [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Image of Jotham, "Joatham rex" by Published by Guillaume Rouille(1518?-1589) - "Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum ". Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Image of Ahaz, "Ahaz" by Published by Guillaume Rouille (1518?-1589) - "Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum". Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Image of Hezekiah, "Ezechias-Hezekiah" by Published by Guillaume Rouille (1518?-1589) - "Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum". Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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Monday, March 9, 2015

Isaiah 18, Part One: Paper Boats and Whirring Wings

Isaiah 18, Part One: Paper Boats and Whirring Wings

What's gone before...

In chapter 17 Isaiah described the end of Damascus, capitol city of Syria, Israel's ally and hope of glory in their fight against Judah. God would bring Damascus down because of their idolatry and pride.

In this passage the God's sovereign control over all nations was seen. God can raise entire kingdoms up, and he can bring them utterly low.

We could identify ourselves in this passage, people who easily forget the God of our salvation, the Creator and Sustainer of our life. We stand condemned by our sin in the same way as Damascus and Israel, and our only hope lies in the kindness of God.

Now, in chapter 18...

Isaiah greets ambassadors sent by a land "of whirring wings, beyond the rivers of Cush". He urges them to go to a nation "tall and smooth, to a people feared near and far". All the world is called to watch as God destroys the impending threat, clearing the mighty army away as a worker might lop all all the fruit-bearing branches of his vineyard. Then the people "tall and smooth, a people feared near and far" will bring tribute to Mount Zion, rather than swords and spears.

First, the ambassadors: from what land do they come?

Isaiah 18:1-2 (ESV) Ah, land of whirring wings that is beyond the rivers of Cush, which sends ambassadors by the sea, in vessels of papyrus on the waters!

Isaiah describes this land as loud and in motion, as if it were a large bird, or a large army, from beyond the rivers of Cush.

The earliest mention of "Cush" in the Bible is found in Genesis 2, implying that Cush was in eastern Asia, near present-day Iraq.

"Cush" originally was the name of one of the four sons of Ham, the son of Noah (Genesis 10).

The names of Ham's sons indicate where they settled. Cush and his sons probably lived near their homeland, "in the land of Shinar", in present-day Iraq.

There is however, evidence that there was a "Cush" located in Africa, near Egypt. Speaking of his promise to preserve Israel, God declared the land of Egypt, Cush and Seba (descendants of Cush's brother) as ransom:

Isaiah 43:3 (ESV) For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in exchange for you.

According to Easton's Illustrated Dictionary, "Cush" generally applied to the countries south of the Israelites, beyond the southern border of Egypt, otherwise known as "Ethiopia", or the Sudan. Ezekiel supports this:

Ezekiel 29:9-10 (ESV) The land of Egypt shall be a desolation and a waste. Then they will know that I am the LORD. Because you said, "The Nile is mine, and I made it," therefore, behold, I am against you and against your streams, and I will make the land of Egypt an utter waste and desolation, from Migdol to Syene, as far as the border of Cush.

Evidently Cushite tribes had migrated from their homeland in eastern Asia, resettling south of Egypt. Thus, both regions were historically referred to as "Cush".

So, were the ambassadors from Assyria or from Ethiopia? The strongest evidence that the ambassadors were from Ethiopia is found in the account of Hezekiah, king of Judah.

The civil war between Judah and Israel was at its height, and Hezekiah feared invasion by Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, the ally-turned-conqueror of Israel. Hezekiah turned to Egypt for support (Isaiah 36). But God, through Isaiah, rebuked Hezekiah's dependence upon the foreign, idolatrous nation of Eqypt:

Isaiah 20:3-6 (ESV) As my servant Isaiah has walked naked and barefoot for three years as a sign and a portent against Egypt and Cush, so shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptian captives and the Cushite exiles, both the young and the old, naked and barefoot, with buttocks uncovered, the nakedness of Egypt. Then they shall be dismayed and ashamed because of Cush their hope and of Egypt their boast. And the inhabitants of this coastland will say in that day, "Behold, this is what has happened to those in whom we hoped and to whom we fled for help to be delivered from the king of Assyria! And we, how shall we escape?"

Here, Isaiah connects Cush with Egypt, implying an alliance joining in war with Judah against a common enemy: Assyria. But the effort at resistance would fail.

Isaiah 30:1-5 (ESV) “Ah, stubborn children,” declares the LORD, “who carry out a plan, but not mine, and who make an alliance, but not of my Spirit, that they may add sin to sin; who set out to go down to Egypt, without asking for my direction, to take refuge in the protection of Pharaoh and to seek shelter in the shadow of Egypt! Therefore shall the protection of Pharaoh turn to your shame, and the shelter in the shadow of Egypt to your humiliation. For though his officials are at Zoan and his envoys reach Hanes, everyone comes to shame through a people that cannot profit them, that brings neither help nor profit, but shame and disgrace.”

Zoan was located in Egypt (Numbers 13:22). Hanes, or Chanes, was a contraction of Tahpanhes, located in Egypt as well (Jeremiah 43:7).

Isaiah's reference to the "land beyond the rivers of Cush" probably referred to ambassadors from the Egyptian-Cushite alliance. God's rebuke of Hezekiah, seen in Isaiah 30, makes Isaiah's opening greeting seem scornful. "Whirring wings" may describe much noise, but little force. "Vessels of papyrus" brings to mind the image of an armada of paper boats laying seige to an army of wood and metal.

What do you think?

Image of paper boat by Angela, on page, Creative Commons.

Image of map, screenshot from Google Maps, access January 26, 2015.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Isaiah 17: A Ruinous Heap

Isaiah 17: A Ruinous Heap

What's gone before...

The previous chapter was divided in tone and intent. The first half was an emotional plea for shelter and protection for the Moabite refugees fleeing the ravages of foreign invaders. The second half was a dismissive condemnation of Moab's history of arrogance and superiority.

Now, in Chapter 17...

The world's search for happiness and strength within themselves will fail completely. War will decimate the nations. But the survivors will find hope in a renewed love and dependence upon God Almighty, their Creator.

Isaiah warns of coming destruction for all nations involved in the civil war between Israel and Judah. Chief among the allies of Israel was Damascus, capital city of Syria.

Isaiah 17:1-3 (ESV) An oracle concerning Damascus. Behold, Damascus will cease to be a city and will become a heap of ruins. The cities of Aroer are deserted; they will be for flocks, which will lie down, and none will make them afraid. The fortress will disappear from Ephraim, and the kingdom from Damascus; and the remnant of Syria will be like the glory of the children of Israel, declares the LORD of hosts.

Moab was to the east of Israel, and Damascus was, and still is, to the north, near Mount Hermon. Like Moab, Damascus had been off-and-on allies and enemies of Israel. Abraham's trusted servant, Eliezer, was from Damascus (Genesis 15:2). King David defeated the Syrian army and took control of Damascus (2 Samuel 8). During the civil war between Israel and Judah, the king of Israel sought alliance with the Syrian king in Damascus (1 Kings 15). At one time both Israel and Syria relied upon the same prophets, Elijah and Elisha (1 Kings 19:15, 2 Kings 8). The two nations shared the same gods, to the ruin of Israel (2 Chronicles 28).

Aroer, Ephraim, Damascus and Syria were cities and regions allied together, joining in Israel's rebellion against Judah.

In Syria lay Israel's hope for victory. Israel must have regarded Damascus as a symbol of glory. But God would soon make it clear that it was a symbol of vain glory.

Isaiah 17:4-6 (ESV) And in that day the glory of Jacob will be brought low, and the fat of his flesh will grow lean. And it shall be as when the reaper gathers standing grain and his arm harvests the ears, and as when one gleans the ears of grain in the Valley of Rephaim. Gleanings will be left in it, as when an olive tree is beaten — two or three berries in the top of the highest bough, four or five on the branches of a fruit tree, declares the LORD God of Israel.

God's perspective extended beyond the nation of Israel. All of earth was filled with idolatry and rebellion against God as Sovereign King.

Isaiah 17:7 (ESV) In that day man will look to his Maker, and his eyes will look on the Holy One of Israel. He will not look to the altars, the work of his hands, and he will not look on what his own fingers have made, either the Asherim or the altars of incense.

Israel's idolatry brought into God's condemnation the entire world, guilty as was Israel, of forgetting the Creator and Sustainer of all. The Holy One of Israel is the Maker of all people, and all people who reject their Creator as Lord will be condemned.

Happiness and strength are essential human desires. Human history is rife with examples of humans seeking happiness and strength from themselves and what they make. God declared a day in which these essential human desires would be satisfied only in the Holy One of Israel and in no other god.

Isaiah 17:9-11 (ESV) In that day their strong cities will be like the deserted places of the wooded heights and the hilltops, which they deserted because of the children of Israel, and there will be desolation. For you have forgotten the God of your salvation and have not remembered the Rock of your refuge; therefore, though you plant pleasant plants and sow the vine-branch of a stranger, though you make them grow on the day that you plant them, and make them blossom in the morning that you sow, yet the harvest will flee away in a day of grief and incurable pain.

Desolation on earth will come because Israel, as representative of the human race, forgot their God. Because Israel sought happiness and strength in themself and in gods of their own making, all earth will fall to grief and incurable pain.

Assyria would be the LORD's instrument of punishment and correction, but in no way would Assyria herself be exempt from judgement.

Isaiah 17:12-14 (ESV) Ah, the thunder of many peoples; they thunder like the thundering of the sea! Ah, the roar of nations; they roar like the roaring of mighty waters! The nations roar like the roaring of many waters, but he will rebuke them, and they will flee far away, chased like chaff on the mountains before the wind and whirling dust before the storm. At evening time, behold, terror! Before morning, they are no more! This is the portion of those who loot us, and the lot of those who plunder us.

"Many peoples" and "nations" referred to the people of Assyria, themselves guilty of forgetting their Maker and placing their hope of happiness and strength in themselves and their gods.

What do you think?

Photo by Evelyn Simak and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons License. The photo has been cropped extensively by the author of this article.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Isaiah 16, Part Two: Compassion and Condemnation

Isaiah 16, Part Two: Compassion and Condemnation

What's gone before...

Isaiah has urged Israel to offer compassion and support to the refugees from Moab as foreign armies overwhelm the region.

Now...

The tone of this chapter suddenly shifts from one of compassion to one of condemnation, as if Israel rejects the notion of caring for the Moabite refugees.

Isaiah 16:6-7 (ESV) We have heard of the pride of Moab— how proud he is! — of his arrogance, his pride, and his insolence; in his idle boasting he is not right. Therefore let Moab wail for Moab, let everyone wail. Mourn, utterly stricken, for the raisin cakes of Kir-hareseth.

Kir-hareseth is literally, "a citadel of brick", the name of a Moabite city.

Now, Isaiah replies again with weeping at the sure demise of the Moabite people.

Isaiah 16:8-12 (ESV) For the fields of Heshbon languish, and the vine of Sibmah; the lords of the nations have struck down its branches, which reached to Jazer and strayed to the desert; its shoots spread abroad and passed over the sea. Therefore I weep with the weeping of Jazer for the vine of Sibmah; I drench you with my tears, O Heshbon and Elealeh; for over your summer fruit and your harvest the shout has ceased. And joy and gladness are taken away from the fruitful field, and in the vineyards no songs are sung, no cheers are raised; no treader treads out wine in the presses; I have put an end to the shouting. Therefore my inner parts moan like a lyre for Moab, and my inmost self for Kir-hareseth. And when Moab presents himself, when he wearies himself on the high place, when he comes to his sanctuary to pray, he will not prevail.

Heshbon, Sibmah and Jazer were cities and towns in Moab.

Isaiah ends the chapter with a specific time for the accomplishment of all that had been prophesied against Moab.

Isaiah 16:13-14 (ESV) This is the word that the LORD spoke concerning Moab in the past. But now the LORD has spoken, saying, "In three years, like the years of a hired worker, the glory of Moab will be brought into contempt, in spite of all his great multitude, and those who remain will be very few and feeble."

What do you think?

photo credit: vinodvv aka vcube via photopin cc

Monday, February 2, 2015

Isaiah 16, Part 1: Shelter

Isaiah 16, Part 1: Shelter

What's gone before...

Isaiah was shown a vision of the impending doom and destruction of Moab, a nation close to Israel in many ways: a shared border, a common ancestor, a frequent enemy and a frequent ally.

What's happening now...

Now, in the sixteenth chapter, Isaiah continues his prophetic warning against Moab, beginning by urging Israel to be prepared to shelter and comfort the refugees that would be fleeing Moab.

Isaiah 16:1-4 (ESV) Send the lamb to the ruler of the land, from Sela, by way of the desert, to the mount of the daughter of Zion. Like fleeing birds, like a scattered nest, so are the daughters of Moab at the fords of the Arnon. Give counsel; grant justice; make your shade like night at the height of noon; shelter the outcasts; do not reveal the fugitive; let the outcasts of Moab sojourn among you; be a shelter to them from the destroyer.

Here, Isaiah describes Moab as fat with wealth and power, as a ram butting and intimidating its flock. The rambunctious Moabites would become frightened outcasts, searching for shelter.

As the mideast is invaded first by Assyria, and then by Babylonia, Moab likely fled south to the region founded by Jacob's brother, Esau, later called Edom or Idumaea.

Israel is urged to give counsel, justice and shelter to the refugees of Moab until a king is established that would rule with love, faithfulness, justice and righteousness.

Isaiah 16:5 (ESV) A throne will be established in steadfast love, and on it will sit in faithfulness in the tent of David one who judges and seeks justice and is swift to do righteousness.

Isaiah says that the king that will bring enduring peace to the land would be a descendant of David.

What do you think?

photo credit: carlosrura via photopin cc

Monday, January 26, 2015

Isaiah 15, Part Two: The Prime Of Life

Isaiah 15, Part Two: The Prime Of Life

Isaiah continues his lament, describing Moab as a valuable, vigorous animal, soon to be slaughtered.

Isaiah 15:5 (ESV) My heart cries out for Moab; her fugitives flee to Zoar, to Eglath-shelishiyah.

Eglath-shelishiyah is a compound word, combinining "heifer" (a young female cow that has not borne a calf) with "third", referring to a three-year-old cow. "Heifer" was used to refer to young women (Judges 14:18), as well as the nations of Egypt (Jeremiah 46:20), Chaldea (Jeremiah 50:11), and Ephraim (Hosea 10:11).

Jeremiah echoes the declaration of Isaiah:

Jeremiah 48:34-35 (ESV) “From the outcry at Heshbon even to Elealeh, as far as Jahaz they utter their voice, from Zoar to Horonaim and Eglath-shelishiyah. For the waters of Nimrim also have become desolate. And I will bring to an end in Moab, declares the LORD, him who offers sacrifice in the high place and makes offerings to his god.

Moab was being described as a young female cow, three years old, at its full vigor, not yet brought under the yoke, but soon to be broken by an invading, foreign nation.

Zoar means "little", and it referred to a place east of the Jordan River. Luhith was a mountain in Moab. Horonaim, a town not far from Zoar - Nimrim, a city south of Moab. Brook of the Willows probably referred to a valley far away from the desolation of Moab. Eglaim and Beer-elim referred to places east of Moab.

Moab's history, as well as that of Israel, Assyria, Babylon or the Medes, does not describe the nations as being morally excellent or spiritually vigorous. The LORD's compassion for Moab could not have been based upon admiration of their works.

What do you think?

photo credit: cskk via photopin cc

Monday, January 19, 2015

Isaiah 15, Part 1: Family

Isaiah 15, Part 1: Family

What has gone before...

Isaiah spoke to four different groups of people, each group given a different message:

  • To Israel, a message of compassion and victory
  • To Babylon, a message of mocking and doom
  • To Assyria, a message of God's sovereignty
  • To Philistia, a message of death

Now, in chapter 15...

The LORD shows Isaiah the future destruction of Moab, and the vision breaks Isaiah's heart.

Who, or what, was Moab?

Moab was the son of Lot, the nephew of Abraham (Genesis 19:37). The child was born of the union between Lot and his daughter. Moab became the father of a people group called the Moabites.

Now, generations after Lot, Isaiah speaks to the people of Moab, warning them of impending doom and crying out to them in shared pain.

Isaiah 15:1-5 (ESV) An oracle concerning Moab. Because Ar of Moab is laid waste in a night, Moab is undone; because Kir of Moab is laid waste in a night, Moab is undone. He has gone up to the temple, and to Dibon, to the high places to weep; over Nebo and over Medeba Moab wails. On every head is baldness; every beard is shorn; in the streets they wear sackcloth; on the housetops and in the squares everyone wails and melts in tears. Heshbon and Elealeh cry out; their voice is heard as far as Jahaz; therefore the armed men of Moab cry aloud; his soul trembles. My heart cries out for Moab.

Ar and Kir were names of cities of Moab. Dibon, Nebo and Medeba were places in Philistia, perhaps a place the Moabites hoped would be safe. Heshbon, Elealeh and Jahaz were places east of the Jordan River, near the Moabite region.

Why would the region of Moab be destroyed, and why did Isaiah weep for its people?

Israel and Moab fought frequently, but just as frequently they had occasion to join together. Centuries before Isaiah's time, the people of Israel fled Egypt and marched across the mideast to claim a place for themselves, and Moab responded in panic.

Numbers 22:1-3 (ESV) Then the people of Israel set out and camped in the plains of Moab beyond the Jordan at Jericho. And Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites. And Moab was in great dread of the people, because they were many. Moab was overcome with fear of the people of Israel.

Rather than fight the Israelites, Moab enticed them into idolatry.

Numbers 25:1-3 (ESV) While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel.

Israel and Moab shared a common ancestor in Lot, and the LORD honored his promise of protection for both people groups.

Deuteronomy 2:9 (ESV) And the LORD said to me, "Do not harass Moab or contend with them in battle, for I will not give you any of their land for a possession, because I have given Ar to the people of Lot for a possession."

The LORD later used Moab as a tool of correction towards the Israelites.

Judges 3:12-14 (ESV) And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and the LORD strengthened Eglon the king of Moab against Israel, because they had done what was evil in the sight of the LORD. He gathered to himself the Ammonites and the Amalekites, and went and defeated Israel. And they took possession of the city of palms. And the people of Israel served Eglon the king of Moab eighteen years.

Despite centuries of animosity between them, Moab and Israel continued to be connected.

Ruth 1:1 (ESV) In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons.

When David was threatened by King Saul, he fled to Moab for refuge.

1 Samuel 22:3-4 (ESV) And David went from there to Mizpeh of Moab. And he said to the king of Moab, “Please let my father and my mother stay with you, till I know what God will do for me.” And he left them with the king of Moab, and they stayed with him all the time that David was in the stronghold.

But soon after David succeeded to the throne of Israel, he attacked and conquered Moab.

2 Samuel 8:2 (ESV) And he defeated Moab and he measured them with a line, making them lie down on the ground. Two lines he measured to be put to death, and one full line to be spared. And the Moabites became servants to David and brought tribute.

David's son, Solomon, lost all that David had won.

1 Kings 11:4-8 (ESV) For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and did not wholly follow the LORD, as David his father had done. Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. And so he did for all his foreign wives, who made offerings and sacrificed to their gods.

Solomon's idolatry brought the LORD's judgement down hard upon Israel, sparking a generation-long civil war that eventually led to a series of invasions by the nations described by Isaiah.

1 Kings 11:9-11 (ESV) And the LORD was angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods. But he did not keep what the LORD commanded. Therefore the LORD said to Solomon, "Since this has been your practice and you have not kept my covenant and my statutes that I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you and will give it to your servant."

Moab was a tool of correction, but the people of Moab themselves would be harshly disciplined for their idolatry. Isaiah's contemporary, Jeremiah, spoke of the LORD's delight in love, justice and righteousness, no matter what nationality or heritage a person may be.

Jeremiah 9:24-26 (ESV) Let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD. Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will punish all those who are circumcised merely in the flesh — Egypt, Judah, Edom, the sons of Ammon, Moab, and all who dwell in the desert who cut the corners of their hair, for all these nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in heart."

Isaiah and Jeremiah wept for the fate of Moab, but their tears were borne from the LORD's own deep sadness over the people's idolatry.

Jeremiah 48:31, 35-36 (ESV) Therefore I wail for Moab; I cry out for all Moab; for the men of Kir-hareseth I mourn...And I will bring to an end in Moab, declares the LORD, him who offers sacrifice in the high place and makes offerings to his god. Therefore my heart moans for Moab like a flute.

The LORD's concern for Moab was like that which he had for Israel.

Ezekiel 25:11 (ESV) and I will execute judgments upon Moab. Then they will know that I am the LORD.

Jeremiah 12:14-17 (ESV) Thus says the LORD concerning all my evil neighbors who touch the heritage that I have given my people Israel to inherit: "Behold, I will pluck them up from their land, and I will pluck up the house of Judah from among them. And after I have plucked them up, I will again have compassion on them, and I will bring them again each to his heritage and each to his land. And it shall come to pass, if they will diligently learn the ways of my people, to swear by my name - As the LORD lives - even as they taught my people to swear by Baal, then they shall be built up in the midst of my people. But if any nation will not listen, then I will utterly pluck it up and destroy it, declares the LORD."

In a sense, the people of Israel and Moab were of the same family, with all the fellowship, fights, tension, love and hate that many families experience.

What do you think?

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Monday, January 12, 2015

Isaiah 14, Part Six: Assyria and Philistia Defeated

Isaiah 14, Part Six: Assyria and Philistia Defeated

Beginning in verse 24, Isaiah's burden changes from Babylon to Assyria and Philistia.

Isaiah 14:24-25 (ESV) The LORD of hosts has sworn: As I have planned, so shall it be, and as I have purposed, so shall it stand, that I will break the Assyrian in my land, and on my mountains trample him underfoot; and his yoke shall depart from them, and his burden from their shoulder.

The LORD is described as having complete, sovereign power over the whole earth:

Isaiah 14:26-27 (ESV) This is the purpose that is purposed concerning the whole earth, and this is the hand that is stretched out over all the nations. For the LORD of hosts has purposed, and who will annul it? His hand is stretched out, and who will turn it back?

The chapter ends with doom pronounced for Philistia:

Isaiah 14:31 (ESV) Wail, O gate; cry out, O city; melt in fear, O Philistia, all of you! For smoke comes out of the north, and there is no straggler in his ranks.

The people of Philistia were descendents of Casluhim, one of the sons of Ham (Genesis 10).

Since the time of Isaac, son of Abraham, the two groups of people, Israel and Philistine, had clashed (Genesis 26). Moses proclaimed God's plan to set up Israel as ruler over all Philistia (Exodus 23).

Israel failed to conquer the Philistines. By the time of Samson, Israel was ruled by Philistia (Judges 14).

David successfully led the nation of Israel in war against the Philistines (1 Chronicles 14).

Generations after David the two nations continued to war. Uzziah, a descendent of David, overran the defenses of Philistia and established Israelite cities throughout the region (2 Chronicles 26).

Uzziah's grandson, Ahaz, took the throne of rule over Israel, but quickly lost control of his kingdom. (2 Chronicles 28).

Ahaz appealed to Assyria for help, thereby bringing to Israel a series of devestating invasions (2 Chronicles 28).

Philistia took advantage of the instability caused by Ahaz, and Isaiah warned them that God would soon punish them:

Isaiah 14:28-31 (ESV) In the year that King Ahaz died came this oracle: Rejoice not, O Philistia, all of you, that the rod that struck you is broken, for from the serpent’s root will come forth an adder, and its fruit will be a flying fiery serpent. And the firstborn of the poor will graze, and the needy lie down in safety; but I will kill your root with famine, and your remnant it will slay. Wail, O gate; cry out, O city; melt in fear, O Philistia, all of you! For smoke comes out of the north, and there is no straggler in his ranks.

In the eyes of Philistia, Uzziah must have been "the rod", and the death of Ahaz would have seemed a good reason for rejoicing. But Isaiah warned that a descendant of Uzziah, Hezekiah the son of Ahaz, would bring much more pain and loss to them.

2 Kings 18:1, 3-8 (ESV) In the third year of Hoshea son of Elah, king of Israel, Hezekiah the son of Ahaz, king of Judah, began to reign...And he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, according to all that David his father had done. He removed the high places and broke the pillars and cut down the Asherah. And he broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it (it was called Nehushtan). He trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel, so that there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him. For he held fast to the LORD. He did not depart from following him, but kept the commandments that the LORD commanded Moses. And the LORD was with him; wherever he went out, he prospered. He rebelled against the king of Assyria and would not serve him. He struck down the Philistines as far as Gaza and its territory, from watchtower to fortified city.

What do you think?

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