Thursday, July 29, 2010

Reflections on Isaiah 19

    Isaiah 19 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. This is a message about Egypt: The LORD comes to Egypt, riding swiftly on a cloud. The people are weak from fear. Their idols tremble as he approaches and says,
  2. "I will punish Egypt with civil war-- neighbors, cities, and kingdoms will fight each other.
  3. "Egypt will be discouraged when I confuse their plans. They will try to get advice from their idols, from the spirits of the dead, and from fortunetellers.
  4. I will put the Egyptians under the power of a cruel, heartless king. I, the LORD All-Powerful, have promised this."
  5. The Nile River will dry up and become parched land.
  6. Its streams will stink, Egypt will have no water, and the reeds and tall grass will dry up.
  7. Fields along the Nile will be completely barren; every plant will disappear.
  8. Those who fish in the Nile will be discouraged and mourn.
  9. None of the cloth makers will know what to do, and they will turn pale.
  10. Weavers will be confused; paid workers will cry and mourn.
  11. The king's officials in Zoan are foolish themselves and give stupid advice. How can they say to him, "We are very wise, and our families go back to kings of long ago?"
  12. Where are those wise men now? If they can, let them say what the LORD All-Powerful intends for Egypt.
  13. The royal officials in Zoan and in Memphis are foolish and deceived. The leaders in every state have given bad advice to the nation.
  14. The LORD has confused Egypt; its leaders have made it stagger and vomit like a drunkard.
  15. No one in Egypt can do a thing, no matter who they are.
  16. When the LORD All-Powerful punishes Egypt with his mighty arm, the Egyptians will become terribly weak and will tremble with fear.
  17. They will be so terrified of Judah that they will be frightened by the very mention of its name. This will happen because of what the LORD All-Powerful is planning against Egypt.
  18. The time is coming when Hebrew will be spoken in five Egyptian cities, and their people will become followers of the LORD. One of these cities will be called City of the Sun.
  19. In the heart of Egypt an altar will be set up for the LORD; at its border a shrine will be built to honor him.
  20. These will remind the Egyptians that the LORD All-Powerful is with them. And when they are in trouble and ask for help, he will send someone to rescue them from their enemies.
  21. The LORD will show the Egyptians who he is, and they will know and worship the LORD. They will bring him sacrifices and offerings, and they will keep their promises to him.
  22. After the LORD has punished Egypt, the people will turn to him. Then he will answer their prayers, and the Egyptians will be healed.
  23. At that time a good road will run from Egypt to Assyria. The Egyptians and the Assyrians will travel back and forth from Egypt to Assyria, and they will worship together.
  24. Israel will join with these two countries. They will be a blessing to everyone on earth,
  25. then the LORD All-Powerful will bless them by saying, "The Egyptians are my people. I created the Assyrians and chose the Israelites."

The next oracle is against Egypt. Though Egypt was a prominent and powerful nation, she, too, would succumb to Assyria's military prowess. But as with all of the nations that were to suffer defeat at the hands of the Assyrians as stated in Isaiah's oracles, it was not about military might or strategy. It was about God controlling the events of history. These various nations, including Israel and Judah, were depending on their various gods and idols and ignoring the Lord God. But through these events the Lord God would demonstrate His control over all things - including these nations.

With Egypt God would demonstrate His power through more than the might of the Assryians. He would also invoke the powers of nature against the nation. The waters of the land, namely the Nile River, would dry up and Egypt's economy would dry up with it. The papyrus reeds would die as would the flax, both important plants for the production of products upon which their economy was dependent. Neither would the fishermen be able to ply their trade. Egypt's entire economy depended on the Nile River. Besides the threat of the Assyrians and the loss of her economy, Egypt's situation would be further complicated by internal division and civil unrest. They would seek their idols in vain and their supposed wise men would give foolish advice causing strife among the leaders.

Isaiah states, "The princes of Zoan are complete fools; Pharaoh's wisest advisers give stupid advice!" (19:11) Regardless of the intelligence of the adviser or wiseman, any counsel that does not point to God is stupid and foolish. This was the case with Egypt's princes and wisest advisers. They were "fools" and gave "stupid advice" for they did not include God in the solution to Egypt's problems. Therefore, "The LORD has mixed within her a spirit of confusion. The leaders have made Egypt stagger in all she does, as a drunkard staggers in his vomit." (19:14)

But the day will come, undoubtedly at Christ's millenial reign, when Egypt, along with Assyria and Israel, will turn to the Lord God. Egypt will swear loyalty to the Lord and will establish worship to Him in her cities. But it will not only be Egypt that turns to God. So will Assyria and Israel and they will "form a triple alliance" with each other and will worship the Lord together.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Reflections on Isaiah 18

    Isaiah 18 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Downstream from Ethiopia lies the country of Egypt, swarming with insects.
  2. Egypt sends messengers up the Nile River on ships made of reeds. Send them fast to Ethiopia, whose people are tall and have smooth skin. Their land is divided by rivers; they are strong and brutal, feared all over the world.
  3. Everyone on this earth, listen with care! A signal will be given on the mountains, and you will hear a trumpet.
  4. The LORD said to me, "I will calmly look down from my home above-- as calmly as the sun at noon or clouds in the heat of harvest season."
  5. Before the blossoms can turn into grapes, God will cut off the sprouts and hack off the branches.
  6. Ethiopians will be food for mountain buzzards during the summer and for wild animals during the winter.
  7. Those Ethiopians are tall and their skin is smooth. They are feared all over the world, because they are strong and brutal. But at that time they will come from their land divided by rivers, and they will bring gifts to the LORD All-Powerful, who is worshiped on Mount Zion.

This is one of the more obscure passages in scripture, but it appears that the nation of Cush sent envoys to Israel apparently to form an alliance against their common enemy, the Assyrians. But then it seems that God dispatched "swift messengers" to these people, either before they sent their envoys or while they were en-route, with the message that they should watch for God's signal. "When a banner is raised on the mountains, look! When a trumpet sounds, listen!" (18:3) The meaning would seem to be that it is useless to make plans against the Assyrians for the Lord has His own plans. When the time is right He will raise a banner and sound a trumpet.

Verses 4-6 give a hint of God's plans against the Assyrians. When they began to ripen like grapes and to extend their empire, God would " cut off the shoots with a pruning knife, and tear away and remove the branches." (18:5) They would be "left for the birds of prey on the hills and for the wild animals of the land." (18:6) Once the Assyrians completed the assignment God had for them to punish the Israelites and take them captive, then God's plan against the Assyrians would go into action.

Once God initiated His plan against the Assyrians, the people of Cush would take a gift to Mount Zion, to Jerusalem, to present to the Lord. They would recognize God's hand of deliverance and give Him thanks. Do we recognize God's hand in the events of our lives beyond the impulse to blame Him when things in life do not go well? As with the Cushites, our plans will not accomplish what we would hope. We are not in control of the events of life as much as we would like to think. But we can position ourselves to benefit from God's plans. Had the Cushites launched plans against the Assyrians they would have been defeated. But by waiting for the Lord to carry out His plans in His timing, they avoided such a defeat and benefitted by waiting upon the Lord.

We cannot see the future, nor do we need to see the future. We simply need to give ourselves into God's hands and allow ourselves to be led by Him and to benefit from His plans.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Reflections on Isaiah 17

    Isaiah 17 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. This is a message about Damascus: Damascus is doomed! It will end up in ruins.
  2. The villages around Aroer will be deserted, with only sheep living there and no one to bother them.
  3. Israel will lose its fortresses. The kingdom of Damascus will be destroyed; its survivors will suffer the same fate as Israel. The LORD All-Powerful has promised this.
  4. When that time comes, the glorious nation of Israel will be brought down; its prosperous people will be skin and bones.
  5. Israel will be like wheat fields in Rephaim Valley picked clean of grain.
  6. It will be like an olive tree beaten with a stick, leaving two or three olives or maybe four or five on the highest or most fruitful branches. The LORD God of Israel has promised this.
  7. At that time the people will turn and trust their Creator, the holy God of Israel.
  8. They have built altars and places for burning incense to their goddess Asherah, and they have set up sacred poles for her. But they will stop worshiping at these places.
  9. Israel captured powerful cities and chased out the people who lived there. But these cities will lie in ruins, covered over with weeds and underbrush.
  10. Israel, you have forgotten the God who saves you, the one who is the mighty rock where you find protection. You plant the finest flowers to honor a foreign god.
  11. The plants may sprout and blossom that very same morning, but it will do you no good, because you will suffer endless agony.
  12. The nations are a noisy, thunderous sea.
  13. But even if they roar like a fearsome flood, God will give the command to turn them back. They will be like dust, or like a tumbleweed blowing across the hills in a windstorm.
  14. In the evening their attack is fierce, but by morning they are destroyed. This is what happens to those who raid and rob us.

The next burdensome message, or oracle, is against Damascus, the capital city of Syria (also known as Aram). Damascus will fall to the Assyrians who was used as God's chief instrument of judgment at that time. Though the oracle is against Damascus, Israel is included because of her alliance with Syria. Israel looked to Syria for help in time of trouble and Syria looked to her idols, neither looked to the true God. But on this occasion the threat was so great verse 7 tells us that, "On that day people will look to their Maker and will turn their eyes to the Holy One of Israel."

History tells us that Damascus was destroyed by the Assyrians in 732 B.C. and Israel fell ten years later. The result, according to this chapter of Isaiah, was that the cities of Syria were abandoned - they were no more. Israel was left weakened as a healthy body that becomes emaciated. Verses 5 and 6 decribe Israel's state following her defeat to the Assyrians as a field of grain or as an olive tree that are barren after they have been harvested.

On the day of their fall, the people of both nations finally looked to the Holy One of Israel rather than the altars they had made with their hands. Why do we only look to God when we are in trouble? Why can we not credit Him for the good times of life and give Him praise because of it?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Reflections on Isaiah 16

    Isaiah 16 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Send lambs as gifts to the ruler of the land. Send them across the desert from Sela to Mount Zion.
  2. The women of Moab crossing the Arnon River are like a flock of birds scattered from their nests.
  3. Moab's messengers say to the people of Judah, "Be kind and help us! Shade us from the heat of the noonday sun. Hide our refugees! Don't turn them away.
  4. Let our people live in your country and find safety here." Moab, your cruel enemies will disappear; they will no longer attack and destroy your land.
  5. Then a kingdom of love will be set up, and someone from David's family will rule with fairness. He will do what is right and quickly bring justice.
  6. We have heard of Moab's pride. Its people strut and boast, but without reason.
  7. Tell everyone in Moab to mourn for their nation. Tell them to cry and weep for those fancy raisins of Kir-Hareseth.
  8. Vineyards near Heshbon and Sibmah have turned brown. The rulers of nations used to get drunk on wine from those vineyards that spread to Jazer, then across the desert and beyond the sea.
  9. Now I mourn like Jazer for the vineyards of Sibmah. I shed tears for Heshbon and for Elealeh. There will be no more harvest celebrations
  10. or joyful and happy times, while bringing in the crops. Singing and shouting are gone from the vineyards. There are no joyful shouts where grapes were pressed. God has silenced them all.
  11. Deep in my heart I hurt for Moab and Kir-Heres.
  12. It's useless for Moab's people to wear themselves out by going to their altars to worship and pray.
  13. The LORD has already said all of this about Moab.
  14. Now he says, "The contract of a hired worker is good for three years, but Moab's glory and greatness won't last any longer than that. Only a few of its people will survive, and they will be left helpless."

The destruction of Moab continues into chapter 16. The Moabites are on the run, refugees from the onslaught of their oppressors, the Assyrians. They are counseled in verse 1 to send lambs as tribute to the king of Judah as they had done previously with the king of Israel. In so doing they might find protection among God's people and in turning to God.

But Moab will not turn to God or seek the help of Judah for her pride, the sin that led her into this calamity, will counsel her to rely on herself. As a result, Isaiah says, "let Moab wail" for her devastation will come. (16:7) Accompanying the destruction of Moab's enemy will also be a drought that would wither her terraced vineyards. When Moab realizes her need for help and turns to her own gods, appearing on the high place, it will do no good. The only help available will come from the Lord God and Moab does not seek that help. Therefore, within three years, further destruction will come that will make Moab an object of contempt, leaving only a few who are weak who remain of Moab.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Reflections on Isaiah 15

    Isaiah 15 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. This is a message about Moab: The towns of Ar and Kir were destroyed in a night. Moab is left in ruins!
  2. Everyone in Dibon has gone up to the temple and the shrines to cry and weep. All of Moab is crying. Heads and beards are shaved because of what happened at Nebo and Medeba.
  3. In the towns and at home, everyone wears sackcloth and cries loud and long.
  4. From Heshbon and Elealeh, weeping is heard in Jahaz; Moab's warriors scream while trembling with fear.
  5. I pity Moab! Its people are running to Zoar and to Eglath-Shelishiyah. They cry on their way up to the town of Luhith; on the road to Horonaim they tell of disasters.
  6. The streams of Nimrim and the grasslands have dried up. Every plant is parched.
  7. The people of Moab are leaving, crossing over Willow Creek, taking everything they own and have worked for.
  8. In the towns of Eglaim and of Beerelim and everywhere else in Moab mournful cries are heard.
  9. The streams near Dimon are flowing with blood. But the Lord will bring even worse trouble to Dimon, because all in Moab who escape will be attacked by lions.

A third oracle is given in chapter 15. Often translated as "burden," an oracle is a burdensome message that is delivered from God concerning a people. Usually it concerns judgment that is to come on the people in question. In Isaiah the oracles concern ungodly nations around Israel. The first oracle, recorded in 13:1-14:27, concerns Babylon. The second, found in 14:28-32, concerns Philistia. The oracle of this chapter relates to Moab, a nation that was troublesome to Israel since her exodus from Egypt.

The oracle against Moab concerns the nation's destruction at the hands of Assyria. At the time the oracle was given, two Moabite cities had already been destroyed: Ar and Kir. Moab was already mourning these losses, and more was to come. The people of these destroyed cities had been humiliated by shaving of their heads and cutting off their beards, and now, in their mourning, everyone is wearing sackcloth and going to the rooftops wailing and falling down in tears. The soldiers of Moab tremble in fear of the army of Assyria.

Isaiah's heart cries out as he considers what is yet to come. The Moabites will flee south into Edom as fugitives to escape the Assyrians carrying with them what belonging they are able to take.  As they go they will be wailing over the destruction that has come upon them. At the river Dibon, the waters are bloody from the death of those who have met the swords of the Assyrians, but it is not over. There is more to come. The pursuit of the Assryian soldiers will be unrelentless as if they are being chased by a lion. 

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Reflections on Isaiah 14

    Isaiah 14 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The LORD will have mercy on Israel and will let them be his chosen people once again. He will bring them back to their own land, and foreigners will join them as part of Israel.
  2. Other nations will lead them home, and Israel will make slaves of them in the land that belongs to the Lord. Israel will rule over those who once governed and mistreated them.
  3. The LORD will set you free from your sorrow, suffering, and slavery.
  4. Then you will make fun of the King of Babylonia by singing this song: That cruel monster is done for! He won't attack us again.
  5. The LORD has crushed the power of those evil kings,
  6. who were furious and never stopped abusing the people of other nations.
  7. Now all the world is at peace; its people are celebrating with joyful songs.
  8. King of Babylonia, even the cypress trees and the cedars of Lebanon celebrate and say, "Since you were put down, no one comes along to chop us down."
  9. The world of the dead eagerly waits for you. With great excitement, the spirits of ancient rulers hear about your coming.
  10. Each one of them will say, "Now you are just as weak as any of us!
  11. Your pride and your music have ended here in the world of the dead. Worms are your blanket, maggots are your bed."
  12. You, the bright morning star, have fallen from the sky! You brought down other nations; now you are brought down.
  13. You said to yourself, "I'll climb to heaven and place my throne above the highest stars. I'll sit there with the gods far away in the north.
  14. I'll be above the clouds, just like God Most High."
  15. But now you are deep in the world of the dead.
  16. Those who see you will stare and wonder, "Is this the man who made the world tremble and shook up kingdoms?
  17. Did he capture every city and make earth a desert? Is he the one who refused to let prisoners go home?"
  18. When kings die, they are buried in glorious tombs.
  19. But you will be left unburied, just another dead body lying underfoot like a broken branch. You will be one of many killed in battle and gone down to the deep rocky pit.
  20. You won't be buried with kings; you ruined your country and murdered your people. You evil monster! We hope that your family will be forgotten forever.
  21. We will slaughter your sons to make them pay for the crimes of their ancestors. They won't take over the world or build cities anywhere on this earth.
  22. The LORD All-Powerful has promised to attack Babylonia and destroy everyone there, so that none of them will ever be remembered again.
  23. The LORD will sweep out the people, and the land will become a swamp for wild animals.
  24. The LORD All-Powerful has made this promise: Everything I have planned will happen just as I said.
  25. I will wipe out every Assyrian in my country, and I will crush those on my mountains. I will free my people from slavery to the Assyrians.
  26. I have planned this for the whole world, and my mighty arm controls every nation.
  27. I, the LORD All-Powerful, have made these plans. No one can stop me now!
  28. This message came from the LORD in the year King Ahaz died:
  29. Philistines, don't be happy just because the rod that punished you is broken. That rod will become a poisonous snake, and then a flying fiery dragon.
  30. The poor and needy will find pastures for their sheep and will live in safety. But I will starve some of you, and others will be killed.
  31. Cry and weep in the gates of your towns, you Philistines! Smoke blows in from the north, and every soldier is ready.
  32. If a messenger comes from a distant nation, you must say: "The LORD built Zion. Even the poorest of his people will find safety there."

The events of this chapter appear to all be related to the near future in relation to when Isaiah spoke of them. Though Isaiah said in 9:17 that in God's punishment of Israel He would no long have compassion on the nation, here he says the "LORD will have compassion on Jacob and will choose Israel again." Though God had punished Israel at the hands of the Assyrians, He would again restore the nation to her land and she would be joined there by people from other nations.

Starting in verse 4, the attention is turned to the king of Babylon. Babylon in this period became very powerful as a result of its aggressiveness in expanding its borders at the demise of other nations.  But Isaiah gives a prophecy of Babylon's own demise which would bring calm and rest to all the earth (14:7) The nations that Babylon had subdued would shout with rejoicing at this event. Isaiah then depicts the king of Babylon joining all the other rulers of the earth in the grave at his own death. The response of the other rulers as the Babylonian king joins them was, "You too have become as weak as we are; you have become like us! Your splendor has been brought down to Sheol (the grave), along with the music of your harps. Maggots are spread out under you, and worms cover you." Regardless of how powerful one might become in life, the same fate awaits everyone, whether great or small. Death comes to all.

At the pinacle of his power the king of Babylon thought himself to have become a god. Rather than joining others in death, he envisioned himself joining the gods in the heavens. There is a popular belief in current thought that it doesn't matter what one believes as long as they are true to what they believe. All worldviews are of equal value. But this thinking will not hold up when it comes face to face with the Creator of all things. It does matter what one believes and gives their life to and there is only one avenue to the true God who is the Creator, and it is through His Son, Jesus Christ. This is the reality with which the king of Babylon came face to face. God allowed him to have his run, but appointed a time in which he would learn who truly was in control. He undoubtedly thought he controlled his own destiny, but found this was not the case. God controlled his destiny as He does for us all.

Despite the tremendous power and wealth this king acquired, in death he was not even given a descent burial. Although the other kings he met in the grave had their own tombs, when the king of Babylon died he was thrown out without a grave, dumped into a rocky pit. History tells us that he was assassinated by his own sons who were unable to rule in his place because they had to run for their lives.

If we must face our Creator in death, why not join Him in life. 

Monday, July 19, 2010

Reflections on Isaiah 13

    Isaiah 13 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. This is the message that I was given about Babylon:
  2. From high on a barren hill give a signal, shout the orders, and point the way to enter the gates of Babylon's proud rulers.
  3. The LORD has commanded his very best warriors and his proud heroes to show how angry he is.
  4. Listen to the noisy crowds on the mountains! Kingdoms and nations are joining forces. The LORD All-Powerful is bringing together an army for battle.
  5. From a distant land the LORD is coming fierce and furious-- he brings his weapons to destroy the earth.
  6. Cry and weep! The day is coming when the mighty LORD will bring destruction. *
  7. All people will be terrified. Hands will grow limp; courage will melt away.
  8. Everyone will tremble with pain like a woman giving birth; they will stare at each other with horror on their faces.
  9. I, the LORD, will show no mercy or pity when that time comes. In my anger I will destroy the earth and every sinner who lives on it.
  10. Light will disappear from the stars in the sky; the dawning sun will turn dark, and the moon will lose its glow.
  11. I will punish this evil world and its people because of their sins. I will crush the horrible pride of those who are cruel.
  12. Survivors will be harder to find than the purest gold.
  13. I, the LORD All-Powerful, am terribly angry-- I will make the sky tremble and the earth shake loose.
  14. Everyone will run to their homelands, just as hunted deer run, and sheep scatter when they have no shepherd.
  15. Those who are captured will be killed by a sword.
  16. They will see their children beaten against rocks, their homes robbed, and their wives abused.
  17. The Medes can't be bought off with silver or gold, and I'm sending them to attack Babylonia.
  18. Their arrows will slaughter the young men; no pity will be shown to babies and children.
  19. The city of Babylon is glorious and powerful, the pride of the nation. But it will be like the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah after I, the Lord, destroyed them.
  20. No one will live in Babylon. Even nomads won't camp nearby, and shepherds won't let their sheep rest there.
  21. Only desert creatures, hoot owls, and ostriches will live in its ruins, and goats will leap about.
  22. Hyenas and wolves will howl from Babylon's fortresses and beautiful palaces. Its time is almost up!

Beginning with this chapter, Isaiah shifts from his prophecy concerning Israel to prophecy concerning the sinful nations around Israel. Chapter 13 concerns Babylon. Where do our thoughts go when we think of a sinful nation? What sins do we think of? Is it primarily immorality? This was undoubtedly a part of the sin of Babylon, but the central issue is pride and arrogance. God is particularly incensed when people credit His work to other sources, be it themselves, other gods, or whatever. The arrogance of Babylon was that she credited herself for her greatness as a nation. For a time she was superior to the nations around her but did not credit this to God.

God would use His chosen ones to destroy Babylon. This is not a reference to Israel, God's chosen people, but rather a reference to a particular people God chose to assign the task of destroying Babylon. Some translations render this passage in verse 3 in this way, "I have commanded my consecrated ones." This reference to the Medes and Persians who God chose for this task does not mean they were holy. Rather it means they were "set apart" for the task which is the meaning of sanctified - set apart.

The army of the Medes and Persians would be unrelenting, these "who cannot be bought off with silver and who have no desire for gold." (13:17) Neither would they have compassion on children. Their goal was destruction, and they would make Babylon uninhabitable. It will become like Sodom and Gomorrah when God rained down fire and brimstone. There would also be cosmic events related to this destruction of Babylon for God would "make the heavens tremble, and the earth will shake from its foundations at the wrath of the LORD of Hosts, on the day of His burning anger." (13:13)

Babylon was indeed destroyed at the hands of the Medes and Persians although not all that is described here occurred at that time. This prophecy of Babylon's destruction intermingles near future and distant future events. The complete destruction described in these verses does not happen until just prior to Christ's millenial reign.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Reflections on Isaiah 11

    Isaiah 11 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Like a branch that sprouts from a stump, someone from David's family will someday be king.
  2. The Spirit of the LORD will be with him to give him understanding, wisdom, and insight. He will be powerful, and he will know and honor the LORD.
  3. His greatest joy will be to obey the LORD. This king won't judge by appearances or listen to rumors.
  4. The poor and the needy will be treated with fairness and with justice. His word will be law everywhere in the land, and criminals will be put to death.
  5. Honesty and fairness will be his royal robes.
  6. Leopards will lie down with young goats, and wolves will rest with lambs. Calves and lions will eat together and be cared for by little children.
  7. Cows and bears will share the same pasture; their young will rest side by side. Lions and oxen will both eat straw.
  8. Little children will play near snake holes. They will stick their hands into dens of poisonous snakes and never be hurt.
  9. Nothing harmful will take place on the LORD's holy mountain. Just as water fills the sea, the land will be filled with people who know and honor the LORD.
  10. The time is coming when one of David's descendants will be the signal for the people of all nations to come together. They will follow his advice, and his own nation will become famous.
  11. When that day comes, the Lord will again reach out his mighty arm and bring home his people who have survived in Assyria, Egypt, Pathros, Ethiopia, Elam, Shinar, Hamath, and the land along the coast.
  12. He will give a signal to the nations, and he will bring together the refugees from Judah and Israel, who have been scattered all over the earth.
  13. Israel will stop being jealous of Judah, and Judah will no longer be the enemy of Israel.
  14. Instead, they will get together and attack the Philistines in the west. Then they will defeat the Edomites, the Moabites, and the Ammonites in the east. They will rule those people and take from them whatever they want.
  15. The Lord will dry up the arm of the Red Sea near Egypt, and he will send a scorching wind to divide the Euphrates River into seven streams that anyone can step across.
  16. Then for his people who survive, there will be a good road from Assyria, just as there was a good road for their ancestors when they left Egypt.

Isaiah now shifts from talk of Israel's sin and destruction and from destruction of Assyria, who was God's instrument to strike down Israel, to looking into the future to when the Messiah will reign. It is doubtful that Isaiah knew how far into the future these events would occur or realized that there would be two advents of the Messiah and these events would take place in the second advent. This chapter describes the millenial reign of the Messiah which is yet to occur.

Unlike the leaders of Israel in Isaiah's day, the Messiah will lead with justice and will always do what God the Father leads Him to do. Those who were oppressed by the unjust leaders of Israel will benefit from the justice of the Messiah and the wicked will experience His discipline. The curse that came upon creation when sin was introduced will be lifted under the reign of the Messiah. Thus wild animals will live in harmony with domesticated animals and with humans.

On that day, the day of the Messiah, Israelites will be fully restored to their country from all the nations of the world to which they have been scattered. It will be like a second Exodus for God will divide the Gulf of Suez and split the waters of the Euphrates so the people can walk through. He will provide a highway "for the remnant of His people." (11:16) The restored Israel will no longer be harassed by her enemies for she will defeat them and have supremacy in the land. But Israelites will not be the only people who benefit from the reign of the Messiah, for the Messiah will "stand as a banner for the peoples. The nations will seek Him, and His resting place will be glorious." (11:10)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Reflections on Isaiah 10

    Isaiah 10 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. You people are in for trouble! You have made cruel and unfair laws
  2. that let you cheat the poor and needy and rob widows and orphans.
  3. But what will you do when you are fiercely attacked and punished by foreigners? Where will you run for help? Where will you hide your valuables?
  4. How will you escape being captured or killed? The Lord is still angry, and he isn't through with you yet!
  5. The Lord says: I am furious! And I will use the king of Assyria as a club
  6. to beat down you godless people. I am angry with you, and I will send him to attack you. He will take what he wants and walk on you like mud in the streets.
  7. He has even bigger plans in mind, because he wants to destroy many nations.
  8. The king of Assyria says: My army commanders are kings!
  9. They have already captured the cities of Calno, Carchemish, Hamath, Arpad, Samaria, and Damascus.
  10. The gods of Jerusalem and Samaria are weaker than the gods of those powerful nations. And I will destroy Jerusalem, together with its gods and idols, just as I did Samaria.
  11. (SEE 10:10)
  12. The Lord will do what he has planned against Jerusalem and Mount Zion. Then he will punish the proud and boastful king of Assyria,
  13. who says: I did these things by my own power because I am smart and clever. I attacked kings like a wild bull, and I took the land and the treasures of their nations.
  14. I have conquered the whole world! And it was easier than taking eggs from an unguarded nest. No one even flapped a wing or made a peep.
  15. King of Assyria, can an ax or a saw overpower the one who uses it? Can a wooden pole lift whoever holds it?
  16. The mighty LORD All-Powerful will send a terrible disease to strike down your army, and you will burn with fever under your royal robes.
  17. The holy God, who is the light of Israel, will turn into a fire, and in one day you will go up in flames, just like a thornbush.
  18. The Lord will make your beautiful forests and fertile fields slowly rot.
  19. There will be so few trees that even a young child can count them.
  20. A time is coming when the survivors from Israel and Judah will completely depend on the holy LORD of Israel, instead of the nation that defeated them.
  21. There were as many people as there are grains of sand along the seashore, but only a few will survive to come back to Israel's mighty God. This is because he has threatened to destroy their nation, just as they deserve.
  22. (SEE 10:21)
  23. The LORD All-Powerful has promised that everyone on this earth will be punished.
  24. Now the LORD God All-Powerful says to his people in Jerusalem: The Assyrians will beat you with sticks and abuse you, just as the Egyptians did. But don't be afraid of them.
  25. Soon I will stop being angry with you, and I will punish them for their crimes.
  26. I will beat the Assyrians with a whip, as I did the people of Midian near the rock at Oreb. And I will show the same mighty power that I used when I made a path through the sea in Egypt.
  27. Then they will no longer rule your nation. All will go well for you, and your burden will be lifted.
  28. Enemy troops have reached the town of Aiath. They have gone through Migron, and they stored their supplies at Michmash,
  29. before crossing the valley and spending the night at Geba. The people of Ramah are terrified; everyone in Gibeah, the hometown of Saul, has run away.
  30. Loud crying can be heard in the towns of Gallim, Laishah, and sorrowful Anathoth.
  31. No one is left in Madmenah or Gebim.
  32. Today the enemy will camp at Nob and shake a threatening fist at Mount Zion in Jerusalem.
  33. But the LORD All-Powerful will use his fearsome might to bring down the tallest trees and chop off every branch.
  34. With an ax, the glorious Lord will destroy every tree in the forests of Lebanon.

Israel, God's people, is described here by Isaiah as a godless people. And as a godless people they would be punished by a godless people. Israel's sin, highlighted in verses 1 and 2 of this chapter was that of injustice against those who were helpless - people such as the afflicted and widows. As these defenseless people were helpless against the laws and courts of Israel's leaders and elite, so will these same leaders and elite be helpless and defenseless against the Assyrians who God would send against them.

We should not assume that the instruments God chooses to use are all godly people, such as Isaiah, who was called by Him to serve His purposes. God's instrument for punishment upon Israel was Assyria. Nor should we assume that because Assyria did God's bidding in punishing Israel that she receives any praise or reward from God. She doesn't. Assyria was serving her own purposes, not those of God. Instead, she was arrogant about her successes in defeating Israel along with other nations as if it were all her doing. But she did nothing God did not allow her to do. Rather than a commendation for doing God's bidding in punishing Israel, Assyria would also be destroyed.

God's punishment of Israel will purge her of her injustice. Her people will be taken captive by Assyria and removed from their homeland, and in time a remnant, who place their trust in God, will return to Israel. By this time the Assryians will be defeated and the remnant that returns to Israel will know that it is the Lord they should fear and not the Assyrians or some other earthly power. The same lesson applies to any and all of us. We can never acquire enough might or wealth or any other asset sufficient enough to protect us from all threats, and if we place our trust, against all threats, in our own resources, we have removed our greatest resource - God. He who has made all that exists is our greatest resource against all things that threaten us. There is no power that can overcome His power.

We must examine our worldview. One whose worldview does not include a God who is the creator of all that exists, has no greater explanation for what exists other than mere chance, and has no personal defense against the threats of life other than their own resources which are totally insufficient.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Reflections on Isaiah 9

    Isaiah 09 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. But those who have suffered will no longer be in pain. The territories of Zebulun and Naphtali in Galilee were once hated. But this land of the Gentiles across the Jordan River and along the Mediterranean Sea will be greatly respected.
  2. Those who walked in the dark have seen a bright light. And it shines upon everyone who lives in the land of darkest shadows.
  3. Our LORD, you have made your nation stronger. Because of you, its people are glad and celebrate like workers at harvest time or like soldiers dividing up what they have taken.
  4. You have broken the power of those who abused and enslaved your people. You have rescued them just as you saved your people from Midian.
  5. The boots of marching warriors and the blood-stained uniforms have been fed to flames and eaten by fire.
  6. A child has been born for us. We have been given a son who will be our ruler. His names will be Wonderful Advisor and Mighty God, Eternal Father and Prince of Peace.
  7. His power will never end; peace will last forever. He will rule David's kingdom and make it grow strong. He will always rule with honesty and justice. The LORD All-Powerful will make certain that all of this is done.
  8. The Lord had warned the people of Israel,
  9. and all of them knew it, including everyone in the capital city of Samaria. But they were proud and stubborn and said,
  10. "Houses of brick and sycamore have fallen to the ground, but we will build houses with stones and cedar."
  11. The LORD made their enemies attack them.
  12. He sent the Arameans from the east and the Philistines from the west, and they swallowed up Israel. But even this did not stop him from being angry, so he kept on punishing them.
  13. The people of Israel still did not turn back to the LORD All-Powerful and worship him.
  14. In one day he cut off their head and tail, their leaves and branches.
  15. Their rulers and leaders were the head, and the lying prophets were the tail.
  16. They had led the nation down the wrong path, and the people were confused.
  17. The Lord was angry with his people and kept punishing them, because they had turned against him. They were evil and spoke foolishly. That's why he did not have pity on their young people or on their widows and orphans.
  18. Evil had spread like a raging forest fire sending thornbushes up in smoke.
  19. The LORD All-Powerful was angry and used the people as fuel for a fire that scorched the land. They turned against each other
  20. like wild animals attacking and eating everyone around them, even their own relatives. But still they were not satisfied.
  21. The tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh turned against each other, then joined forces to attack Judah. But the LORD was still angry and ready to punish the nation even more.

In the midst of talk about God's discipline and judgment of Israel and Judah comes a message of hope. Mention was made in chapter 7 of a child that would be born who would be a sign that God's word through Isaiah was true. Again, mention is made in chapter 9 of a child that would be born, but this child is more than a sign. This child is the Messiah who will give the nation deliverance. All that God has formerly done both to bless and to discipline Israel has not caused her to understand. But when the Messiah comes, a light will dawn. The people will finally understand. From our perspective this prophecy can be confusing for we know that when this child was born many of the things mentioned in these verses did not happen. But we have to realize that Isaiah did not see the whole picture, recognizing that all this would happen in two parts - in two advents of the Messiah. Most of this will occur in that second advent which is yet to come.

In verse 8 the message returns to Israel's present condition at the time of Isaiah and her coming discipline. Despite the discipline, the people will not 'get it'. Instead, they will arrogantly talk of rebuilding the nation even better than it was before the discipline. Therefore the Lord's "anger is not removed, and His hand is still raised to strike. The people did not turn to Him who struck them; they did not seek the LORD of Hosts." (9:12-13) This will result in the Lord cutting off Israel completely.

We are prone to look for blame in every situation. Who is responsible? In this case, does the blame for Israel's condition lie with the Lord and the ineffectiveness of His discipline to bring Israel back around or does it lie with Israel and her behavior? With the parent of a rebellious child, who is responsible for that behavior, the parent whose discipline may not have been effective or the child who is rebellious? Ultimately a person must accept responsibility for their own behavior, and certainly must be held responsible. No one else is to blame for the choices an individual makes, and all behavior is a choice. Discipline is aimed at causing us to reconsider our choices, but if we do not make better choices, it is not the fault of the discipline.

And so it was with Israel that God's discipline did not cause her to reconsider her rebellious choices. Circumstances kept spiraling downward as God disciplined and Israel did not change her ways. And so Isaiah says in verses 12, 17, and 21, "In all this, His anger is not removed, and His hand is still raised to strike."

Monday, July 12, 2010

Reflections on Isaiah 8

    Isaiah 08 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The LORD said, "Isaiah, get something to write on. Then write in big clear letters the name, MAHER-SHALAL-HASH-BAZ.
  2. I will have Uriah the priest and Zechariah son of Jeberechiah serve as witnesses to this."
  3. Sometime later, my wife and I had a son, and the LORD said, "Name him Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz.
  4. Because before he can say 'Mommy' or 'Daddy', the king of Assyria will attack and take everything of value from Damascus and Samaria."
  5. The LORD spoke to me again and said:
  6. These people have refused the gentle waters of Shiloah and have gladly gone over to the side of King Rezin and King Pekah.
  7. Now I will send the king of Assyria against them with his powerful army, which will attack like the mighty Euphrates River overflowing its banks.
  8. Enemy soldiers will cover Judah like a flood reaching up to your neck. But God is with us. He will spread his wings and protect our land.
  9. All of you foreign nations, go ahead and prepare for war, but you will be crushed.
  10. Get together and make plans, but you will fail because God is with us.
  11. The LORD took hold of me with his powerful hand and said: I'm warning you! Don't act like these people.
  12. Don't call something a rebellious plot, just because they do, and don't be afraid of something, just because they are.
  13. I am the one you should fear and respect. I am the holy God, the LORD All-Powerful!
  14. Run to me for protection. I am a rock that will make both Judah and Israel stumble and break their bones. I am a trap that will catch the people of Jerusalem--they will be captured and dragged away.
  15. (SEE 8:14)
  16. My message and my teachings are to be sealed and given to my followers.
  17. Meanwhile, I patiently trust the LORD, even though he is no longer pleased with Israel.
  18. My children and I are warning signs to Israel from the LORD All-Powerful, who lives on Mount Zion.
  19. Someone may say to you, "Go to the fortunetellers who make soft chirping sounds or ask the spirits of the dead. After all, a nation ought to be able to ask its own gods
  20. what it should do." None of those who talk like that will live to see the light of day!
  21. They will go around in great pain and will become so hungry that they will angrily curse their king and their gods. And when they try to find help in heaven
  22. and on earth, they will find only trouble and darkness, terrible trouble and deepest darkness.

Chapter 8 is a continuation of the events of chapter 7 in which Judah was threatened by an alliance between Israel and Aram. Through Isaiah, God told king Ahaz of Judah not to fear this alliance for the two nations would never attack Judah. Ahaz, however, rejected this word from the Lord and God told him that within two years Judah would be invaded by Assyria. In its continuation on this subject, chapter 8 says that there is hope for Judah. Yes, Judah would be invaded by the Assyrians, but Judah would survive.

Isaiah was to have a son whose name spoke of plunder and spoils of war. That was the meaning of the name Maher-shalal-hash-baz that Isaiah was to name his son. It prophesied that the wealth and spoils of both Aram and Israel would be carried off by Assyria. This was to happen before the boy "knows how to call out father or mother." In other words, within two years the Aram/Israel alliance would be broken up by Assyria and the two countries destroyed. Verses 5-8 describe this destruction. Assyria's invasion of these countries would be like the "mighty rushing waters of the Euphrates River" flooding Aram and Israel and sweeping them away. This invasion would even flow into Judah "reaching up to the neck." But Judah will be spared.

Then Isaiah brings it all into proper perspective. It is not other nations and powers we should fear. It is the Lord who has power over all these we should fear. All of the plans of nations can be broken, but God's plans are sure. There is none who can deter Him and His plans. Therefore, we should regard the Lord as holy and hold Him in awe. In doing so, we have nothing to fear. But if we reject the Lord, we have everything to fear for we are no longer under His protective arm.

Isaiah's testimony is this: "I will wait for the Lord." When others consult the spirits of the dead he will consult the Lord. Why would one consult the dead on behalf of the living, he asks? Those who consult the dead will soon join them. The only hope lies in the Lord. 

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Reflections on Isaiah 7

    Isaiah 07 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Ahaz, the son of Jotham and the grandson of Uzziah, was king of Judah when King Rezin of Syria and King Pekah son of Remaliah of Israel went to attack Jerusalem. But they were not able to do what they had planned.
  2. When news reached the royal palace that Syria had joined forces with Israel, King Ahaz and everyone in Judah were so terrified that they shook like trees in a windstorm.
  3. Then the LORD said to me: Take your son Shearjashub and go see King Ahaz. You will find him on the road near the cloth makers' shops at the end of the canal that brings water from the upper pool.
  4. Tell Ahaz to stop worrying. There's no need for him to be afraid of King Rezin and King Pekah. They are very angry, but they are nothing more than a dying fire. Ahaz doesn't need to fear
  5. their evil threats
  6. to invade and defeat Judah and Jerusalem and to let the son of Tabeel be king in his place.
  7. I, the LORD, promise that this will never happen.
  8. Damascus is just the capital of Syria, and King Rezin rules only in Damascus. Samaria is just the capital of Israel, and King Pekah rules only in Samaria. But in less than sixty-five years, Israel will be destroyed. And if Ahaz and his officials don't trust me, they will be defeated.
  9. (SEE 7:8)
  10. Once again the LORD God spoke to King Ahaz. This time he said,
  11. "Ask me for proof that my promise will come true. Ask for something to happen deep in the world of the dead or high in the heavens above."
  12. "No, LORD," Ahaz answered. "I won't test you!"
  13. Then I said: Listen, every one of you in the royal family of David. You have already tried my patience. Now you are trying God's patience by refusing to ask for proof.
  14. But the LORD will still give you proof. A virgin is pregnant; she will have a son and will name him Immanuel.
  15. Even before the boy is old enough to know how to choose between right and wrong, he will eat yogurt and honey, and the countries of the two kings you fear will be destroyed.
  16. (SEE 7:15)
  17. But the LORD will make more trouble for your people and your kingdom than any of you have known since Israel broke away from Judah. He will even bring the king of Assyria to attack you.
  18. When that time comes, the LORD will whistle, and armies will come from Egypt like flies and from Assyria like bees.
  19. They will settle everywhere--in the deep valleys and between the rocks, on every bush and all over the pastureland.
  20. The Lord will pay the king of Assyria to bring a razor from across the Euphrates River and shave your head and every hair on your body, including your beard.
  21. No one will have more than one young cow and two sheep,
  22. but those who do will have enough milk to make yogurt. In fact, everyone left in the land will eat yogurt and honey.
  23. Vineyards that had a thousand vines and were worth a thousand pieces of silver will turn into thorn patches.
  24. You will go there to hunt with your bow and arrows, because the whole country will be covered with thornbushes.
  25. The hills where you once planted crops will be overgrown with thorns and thistles. You will be afraid to go there, and your cattle, sheep, and goats will be turned loose on those hills.

To this point in the book of Isaiah, the prophet has had visions of what is and what will be. The previous chapter records Isaiah's vision of his call to be God's prophet to Judah. All of this was preparation for the assign that Isaiah now takes on. The accounts of chapter 7 appear to be Isaiah's first assignment.

At this point in the history of Israel, the 12 tribes of Israel are divided into two kingdoms, the northern kingdom being Israel, and the southern kingdom, Judah. It is this southern kingdom to which Isaiah served as prophet, and his first assignment regarded an alliance between the northern kingdom, Israel, and the country of Aram for the purpose of attacking Judah. Verse 2 says that at learning of this alliance "the heart of Ahaz and the hearts of his people trembled like trees of a forest shaking in a wind." Therefore, God sent Isaiah to Ahaz with the message, "Calm down and be quiet. Don't be afraid or fainthearted because of these two smoldering stubs of firebrands, Rezin of Aram, and the son of Remaliah," for there will be no attack from these kings.

The God of the universe was in control of these events, and He was telling Ahaz that these mere men, Rezin and Pekah, were not a threat. What he needed to be more concerned about was what would happen if he did not stand firm in his faith, for if he did not, he would not stand at all. Did he stand firm in his faith? As we will see, he did not. Ahaz was offered the inviable opportunity of asking God for whatever miracle he wished to have performed as a sign that this prediction would come true. Although his response to this offer sounds pious, it really reveals the lack of faith in his heart. He said, "I will not test the LORD." Isaiah's response is our clue that Ahaz' reply is not one of faith, "Is it not enough for you to try the patience of men? Will you also try the patience of my God?" (7:13) The opening verses of this chapter may lead us to believe that king Pekah of Israel was an ungodly king and Ahaz a godly king, since God was going to deliver him from the attack of the Israel/Aram alliance. But we realize now that Ahaz was little, if any, better than Pekah.

The remainder of the chapter tells of a sign that Ahaz will be given, though he asked for none, and of the coming judgment on Judah at the hands of the Egyptians and the Assyrians. Ahaz did not stand firm in his faith and thus he and his nation would not stand at all. No doubt God gave Ahaz a sign, though he asked for none, so he would realize the truth of this prediction and recognize his own error. 

Friday, July 9, 2010

Reflections on Isaiah 6

    Isaiah 06 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. In the year that King Uzziah died, I had a vision of the LORD. He was on his throne high above, and his robe filled the temple.
  2. Flaming creatures with six wings each were flying over him. They covered their faces with two of their wings and their bodies with two more. They used the other two wings for flying,
  3. as they shouted, "Holy, holy, holy, LORD All-Powerful! The earth is filled with your glory."
  4. As they shouted, the doorposts of the temple shook, and the temple was filled with smoke.
  5. Then I cried out, "I'm doomed! Everything I say is sinful, and so are the words of everyone around me. Yet I have seen the King, the LORD All-Powerful."
  6. One of the flaming creatures flew over to me with a burning coal that it had taken from the altar with a pair of metal tongs.
  7. It touched my lips with the hot coal and said, "This has touched your lips. Your sins are forgiven, and you are no longer guilty."
  8. After this, I heard the LORD ask, "Is there anyone I can send? Will someone go for us?" "I'll go," I answered. "Send me!"
  9. Then the LORD told me to go and speak this message to the people: "You will listen and listen, but never understand. You will look and look, but never see." The LORD also said,
  10. "Make these people stubborn! Make them stop up their ears, cover their eyes, and fail to understand. Don't let them turn to me and be healed."
  11. Then I asked the LORD, "How long will this last?" The LORD answered: Until their towns are destroyed and their houses are deserted, until their fields are empty,
  12. and I have sent them far away, leaving their land in ruins.
  13. If only a tenth of the people are left, even they will be destroyed. But just as stumps remain after trees have been cut down, some of my chosen ones will be left.

Chapter 6 of Isaiah records the prophet's call by God to go to Israel with the message of coming judgment and the need for repentance. This may be the most frequently referenced chapter of the book. Did Isaiah's call come chronologically at this point in his ministry following the accounts of the first five chapters? Or, did his call come before the events of the first five chapters but was not entered into the narrative until this point? In other words, did Isaiah have the visions concerning Israel's sin and coming judgment, as recorded in the first five chapters, before or after his call? If before, then they were probably meant to prepare him for the call. If afterward, they became his preparation for what he was to do.

The vision of the Lord seated on the throne with the pronouncement of His holiness by the Seraphim made Isaiah acutely aware of his sinfulness. Not only was Israel sinful, but the prophet Isaiah, God's messenger to Israel, was also sinful as are all people. What qualifies a sinful prophet to go to a people and preach to them of their sin and the need for repentance? Isaiah was qualified for this task because God called him to it and because he acknowledged his sin and was cleansed of it.

What, specifically, was Isaiah called to do? Verse 9 tells us, "Go! Say to these people: Keep listening, but do not understand; keep looking, but do not perceive. Dull the minds of these people; deafen their ears and blind their eyes; otherwise they might see with their eyes and hear with their ears, understand with their minds, turn back, and be healed." The people of Israel could keep listening and keep looking, but it would make no difference. Without acknowledgement of their sin and repentance from it, nothing they did would make a difference. Their listening would not bring understanding nor their looking perception. Isaiah's message to them would only dull their minds further and further deafen them and blind them as they refused to respond to it.

Passages such as this may trouble us with the impression that God Himself was dulling the minds of the people so they would not see or hear and not come to undertand and therefore fail to turn back. During His ministry, Jesus referenced this verse, also applying it to Israel in His day. The point was that Israel could not believe because they would not believe. This is a caution for any of us at any time. The more we resist responding to God in our lives the less we are able to respond. The more we refuse to listen, the less we are able to hear. God does not hinder us from responding to Him in repentance. He does everything possible that we might respond. It is we who place the obstacles to responding in the way. God sent Isaiah to Israel even though He knew they would not respond. He wanted them to have every opportunity to avoid the coming judgment, or maybe better termed discipline.

Though the people would not listen to Isaiah, God would have their attention through the coming events of discipline. Isaiah asked how long it would be until the people would hear and see and no longer be dull of mind and would finally be healed? God told him it would be "Until cities lie in ruins without inhabitants, houses are without people, the land is ruined and desolate, and the LORD drives the people far away, leaving great emptiness in the land." (6:11-12)

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Reflections on Isaiah 5

    Isaiah 05 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. I will sing a song about my friend's vineyard that was on the side of a fertile hill.
  2. My friend dug the ground, removed the stones, and planted the best vines. He built a watchtower and dug a pit in rocky ground for pressing the grapes. He hoped they would be sweet, but bitter grapes were all it produced.
  3. Listen, people of Jerusalem and of Judah! You be the judge of me and my vineyard.
  4. What more could I have done for my vineyard? I hoped for sweet grapes, but bitter grapes were all that grew.
  5. Now I will let you know what I am going to do. I will cut down the hedge and tear down the wall. My vineyard will be trampled and left in ruins.
  6. It will turn into a desert, neither pruned nor hoed; it will be covered with thorns and briars. I will command the clouds not to send rain.
  7. I am the LORD All-Powerful! Israel is the vineyard, and Judah is the garden I tended with care. I had hoped for honesty and for justice, but dishonesty and cries for mercy were all I found.
  8. You are in for trouble! You take over house after house and field after field, until there is no room left for anyone else in all the land.
  9. But the LORD All-Powerful has made this promise to me: Those large and beautiful homes will be left empty, with no one to take care of them.
  10. Ten acres of grapevines will produce only six gallons of juice, and five bushels of seed will produce merely a half-bushel of grain.
  11. You are in for trouble! You get up early to start drinking, and you keep it up late into the night.
  12. At your drinking parties you have the music of stringed instruments, tambourines, and flutes. But you never even think about all the LORD has done,
  13. and so his people know nothing about him. That's why many of you will be dragged off to foreign lands. Your leaders will starve to death, and everyone else will suffer from thirst.
  14. The world of the dead has opened its mouth wide and is eagerly waiting for the leaders of Jerusalem and for its noisy crowds, especially for those who take pride in that city.
  15. Its citizens have been put down, and its proud people have been brought to shame.
  16. But the holy LORD God All-Powerful is praised, because he has shown who he is by bringing justice.
  17. His people will be like sheep grazing in their own pasture, and they will take off what was left by others.
  18. You are in for trouble! The lies you tell are like ropes by which you drag along sin and evil.
  19. And you say, "Let the holy God of Israel hurry up and do what he has promised, so we can see it for ourselves."
  20. You are headed for trouble! You say wrong is right, darkness is light, and bitter is sweet.
  21. You think you are clever and smart.
  22. And you are great at drinking and mixing drinks. But you are in for trouble.
  23. You accept bribes to let the guilty go free, and you cheat the innocent out of a fair trial.
  24. You will go up in flames like straw and hay! You have rejected the teaching of the holy LORD God All-Powerful of Israel. Now your roots will rot, and your blossoms will turn to dust.
  25. You are the LORD's people, but you made him terribly angry, and he struck you with his mighty arm. Mountains shook, and dead bodies covered the streets like garbage. The LORD is still angry, and he is ready to strike you again.
  26. The LORD has signaled for the foreign nations to come and attack you. He has already whistled, and they are coming as fast as they can.
  27. None of them are tired. They don't sleep or get drowsy, and they run without stumbling. Their belts don't come loose; their sandal straps don't break.
  28. Their arrows are sharp, and their bows are ready. The hoofs of their horses are hard as flint; the wheels of their war chariots turn as fast as a whirlwind.
  29. They roar and growl like fierce young lions as they grab their victims and drag them off where no one can rescue them.
  30. On the day they attack, they will roar like the ocean. And across the land you will see nothing but darkness and trouble, because the light of day will be covered by thick clouds.

Isaiah began this chapter with a song about God ("the one I love") and His vineyard (Israel). God had a vineyard on a fertile hill and cared for it in every way, expecting a "yield of good grapes." (5:2) Instead, the grapes it yielded were worthless.  In the second stanza of the song (verses 3-6) God asks the question of the residents of Jerusalem, "What more could I have done for My vineyard than I did?" Further, He asked, "Why, when I expected a yield of good grapes, did it yield worthless grapes?" (5:4) Though an answer is not given to these questions, God replies with what He plans to do with His vineyard. He will tear down its protective wall allowing the animals to trample it and make it a wasteland, and He will keep the rain from falling on it. Stanza three identifies plainly who are the characters of the song. The vineyard owner is indeed "the Lord of Hosts" and the vineyard itself is the "house of Israel." (5:7) The yield of grapes that was expected of the vineyard represented justice in Israel. But instead of justice there was injustice and wretchedness.

Here the analogy of the vineyard ends and six woes are pronounced upon Israel as a result of her injustice. As in the analogy, the protective wall was torn down to allow animals to trample it, so will God take away His protection from Israel and allow other nations to trample her. 
  • First Woe -  There were landowners who sought to acquire houses and fields until there was a shortage of both. This was done contrary to the Mosaic law that required all property to revert back to its original owners every seven years, the year of jubilee. This provision made it possible to maintain the equitable distribution of land as it was originally distributed to the 12 tribes. The woe was upon these landowners whose houses would go empty and whose fields would fail to yield a decent crop.
  • Second Woe -  The second woe was upon those whose main pursuit was drunkenous. They arose early in the morning "in pursuit of beer," and lingered late into the evening "inflamed by wine." (5:11) They cared only for their own pleasures and had no respect for the Lord or "the work of His hands." (5:12) Their woe is that they will go into exile. God will be exalted in this woe because justice will prevail. 
  • Third Woe -  Woe to those who become impatient with God to do His work quickly while they remain tied to their sins "with cart ropes." (5:18) Such people evidently see no connection between their actions and the problems they encounter. They want God to deliver them from their problems but do not want to remove the ropes that tie them to their sin. What the woe will be for these people is not stated.
  • Fourth Woe -  This woe is upon those who pervert the values of good and evil. They call evil good, darkness light, and bitter sweet. Such people want to pursue their evil activities and draw others into these activities with them while all the while considering themselves good. Again, the woe is not stated.
  • Fifth Woe -  The fifth woe is upon those who rely on their own cleverness and wisdom. This could apply to the leaders of Israel who depended on their own solutions to the delimmas of the nation. It could also apply to those earmarked in the previous woe who perverted values. Such usually think themselves to be clever. But when this woe (which is not stated) comes, the clever smirk will be wiped from their faces.
  • Sixth Woe -  The last woe is upon those for whom the extent of their greatness is their drinking of wine, mixing of beer, and acquiting the guilty for a bribe. Upon these, the woe is stated. God "raised His hand against them and struck them; the mountains quaked, and their corpses were like garbage in the streets." 
The instrument of God's judgment to carry out these woes will be the ungodly distant nations for whom God will "raise(s) a signal flag . . . and whistle(s) for them from the ends of the earth." (5:26) Those who pride themselves on being God's chosen people but who do not act as God's people, will fall at the hands of the ungodly. Those who come against them will be untiring and unrelentless. No one can rescue Israel from its fate at the hands of these foes.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Reflections on Isaiah 4

    Isaiah 04 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. When this happens, seven women will grab the same man, and each of them will say, "I'll buy my own food and clothes! Just marry me and take away my disgrace."
  2. The time is coming when the LORD will make his land fruitful and glorious again, and the people of Israel who survive will take great pride in what the land produces.
  3. Everyone who is left alive in Jerusalem will be called special,
  4. after the LORD sends a fiery judgment to clean the city and its people of their violent deeds.
  5. Then the LORD will cover the whole city and its meeting places with a thick cloud each day and with a flaming fire each night. God's own glory will be like a huge tent that covers everything.
  6. It will provide shade from the heat of the sun and a place of shelter and protection from storms and rain.

In many of the books of prophecy, the prophet's vision moves between the past, the present, the near future, and the distant future, and sometimes it is difficult to know to which he refers at a particular time. This is the case with Isaiah. The first chapter began with Israel's past and present condition, spoke of the coming judgment in the near future, and then referred to a time of glorious restoration in the distant future. This talk of a distant future time when Israel will finally be what God intended her to be continues into chapter 2 of Isaiah. After the first few verses of that chapter the prophet again mentions Israel's present condition and the judgment that is to come in the near future. All of chapter 3 is about the judgement to come in Israel's near future. The first verse of chapter 4 concludes the descriptions of judgment from chapter 3. The remainder of chapter 4 tells of the glorious time that will come for Israel in the distant future.

It is commonly thought that the far distant future spoken of by Isaiah is the millenial reign of Christ. In this case, Israel's survivors, mentioned in verse 2, would be survivors of the Great Tribulation. In that day, "the branch of the LORD will be beautiful and glorious," referring to the Messiah. (4:2) At that time, Israel's guilt will have been washed by "a spirit of judgment and a spirit of burning." (4:4) The mark of distinction for Israel at that time will not be her wealth or prestige, but her holiness.

At that time God's glory will be visible to Israel as it was in the Exodus - "a cloud of smoke by day and a glowing flame of fire by night." (4:5) In the midst of Israel's rebellious condition and talk of coming judgment, the prophet keeps before them the hope of the future and the goal toward which God is always aiming. There is a far greater purpose God has for Israel, and it is not simply that of being a nation of world renown and prosperity for which the Israelites were concerned.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Reflections on Isaiah 3

    Isaiah 03 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The mighty LORD All-Powerful is going to take away from Jerusalem and Judah everything you need-- your bread and water, *
  2. soldiers and heroes, judges and prophets, leaders and army officers,
  3. officials and advisors, fortunetellers and others who tell the future.
  4. He will let children and babies become your rulers.
  5. You will each be cruel to friends and neighbors. Young people will insult their elders; no one will show respect to those who deserve it.
  6. Some of you will grab hold of a relative and say, "You still have a coat. Be our leader and rule this pile of ruins."
  7. But the answer will be, "I can't do you any good. Don't make me your leader. There's no food or clothing left in my house."
  8. Jerusalem and Judah, you rebelled against your glorious LORD-- your words and your actions, made you stumble and fall.
  9. The look on your faces shows that you are sinful as Sodom, and you don't try to hide it. You are in for trouble, and you have brought it all on yourselves.
  10. Tell those who obey God, "You're very fortunate-- you will be rewarded for what you have done."
  11. Tell those who disobey, "You're in big trouble-- what you did to others will come back to you."
  12. Though you are God's people, you are ruled and abused by women and children. You are confused by leaders who guide you down the wrong path.
  13. The LORD is ready to accuse and judge all nations.
  14. He will even judge you rulers and leaders of his own nation. You destroyed his vineyard and filled your houses by robbing the poor.
  15. The LORD All-Powerful says, "You have crushed my people and rubbed in the dirt the faces of the poor."
  16. The LORD says: The women of Jerusalem are proud and strut around, winking shamelessly. They wear anklets that jingle and call attention to the way they walk.
  17. But I, the LORD, will cover their heads with sores, and I will uncover their private parts.
  18. When that day comes, I will take away from those women all the fine jewelry they wear on their ankles, heads, necks, ears, arms, noses, fingers, and on their clothes. I will remove their veils, their belts, their perfume, their magic charms, their royal robes, and all their fancy dresses, hats, and purses.
  19. (SEE 3:18)
  20. (SEE 3:18)
  21. (SEE 3:18)
  22. (SEE 3:18)
  23. (SEE 3:18)
  24. In place of perfume, there will be a stink; in place of belts, there will be ropes; in place of fancy hairdos, they will have bald heads. Instead of expensive clothes, they will wear sackcloth; instead of beauty, they will have ugly scars.
  25. The fighting men of Jerusalem will be killed in battle.
  26. The city will mourn and sit in the dirt, emptied of its people.

Judah had turned to idols, placing her trust in them, despite the fact that it was God who had brought them to a land of their own and protected them against enemy after enemy in the process. God had prospered the people but they were crediting their prosperity to themselves and their idols. They were proud of themselves as any of us tend to be when we prosper. During prosperity we tend to become smug, crediting ourselves for what we have. But when we lose that prosperity we tend to blame God.

Too often, though, we prosper at the expense of others, and this was the case with Judah. Many of the rich had plundered the poor. And yet, they were smug about their riches and flaunted it. The women in particular went around "with heads held high and seductive eyes, going along with prancing steps, jingling their ankle bracelets." (3:16) We should not conclude, however, that the problem was prosperity. Rather, the problem was pride. Pride does not look to God but to self. God had prospered Judah/Israel in the past and He had done so without oppressing anyone. But Judah had not credited God for her prosperity. Instead she exchanged the security of what God provided for the uncertainty of what they could do for themselves. Now Isaiah says, "The Lord GOD of Hosts is about to remove from Jerusalem and from Judah every kind of security."

All of this is pointing to Judah's overthrow by the Babylonians. When the Babylonians attack all will be gone: "the entire supply of bread and water, the hero and warrior, the judge and prophet, the fortune-teller and elder, the commander of 50 and the dignitary, the counselor, cunning magician, and necromancer." (3:1-3) Judah will be thrown into disarray. The leaders who led them away from God will be taken away and the nation will be led by the unstable. Leadership will be turned over to anyone who will take it. In the end the people will be led away into exile. Instead of fine clothes and jewelry and perfumes, they will be led away in sackcloth with bald heads instead of fine hair, and with ropes around them in place of nice belts and jewelry. Instead of perfume they will have a stench.

This is the outcome of going our own way and doing our own thing. We speak of "controlling our own destiny," as if we could, and think that the only thing we can depend on is ourselves. Instead, this is a very uncertain way to live. As difficult as it may be for some to trust themselves to another, especially to God who they are not even sure exists, it is the only sure way to live. God's provision is certain. What we can provide for ourselves is not.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Reflections on Isaiah 2

    Isaiah 02 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. This is the message that I was given about Judah and Jerusalem:
  2. In the future, the mountain with the LORD's temple will be the highest of all. It will reach above the hills; every nation will rush to it.
  3. Many people will come and say, "Let's go to the mountain of the LORD God of Jacob and worship in his temple." The LORD will teach us his Law from Jerusalem, and we will obey him.
  4. He will settle arguments between nations. They will pound their swords and their spears into rakes and shovels; they will never make war or attack one another.
  5. People of Israel, let's live by the light of the LORD.
  6. Our LORD, you have deserted your people, Israel, because they follow customs of nations from the east. They worship Philistine gods and are close friends of foreigners.
  7. They have endless treasures of silver and gold; they have countless horses and war chariots.
  8. Everywhere in the country they worship the idols they have made.
  9. And so, all of them will be ashamed and disgraced. Don't help them!
  10. Every one of you, go hide among the rocks and in the ground, because the LORD is fearsome, marvelous, and glorious.
  11. When the LORD comes, everyone who is proud will be made humble, and the LORD alone will be honored.
  12. The LORD All-Powerful has chosen a day when those who are proud and conceited will be put down.
  13. The tall and towering cedars of Lebanon will be destroyed. So will the oak trees of Bashan,
  14. all high mountains and hills,
  15. every strong fortress,
  16. all the seagoing ships, and every beautiful boat.
  17. When that day comes, everyone who is proud will be put down. Only the LORD will be honored.
  18. Idols will be gone for good.
  19. You had better hide in caves and holes-- the LORD will be fearsome, marvelous, and glorious when he comes to terrify people on earth.
  20. On that day everyone will throw to the rats and bats their idols of silver and gold they made to worship.
  21. The LORD will be fearsome, marvelous, and glorious when he comes to terrify people on earth-- they will hide in caves and in the hills.
  22. Stop trusting the power of humans. They are all going to die, so how can they help?

A time will come, during the reign of Christ at the end of time, when Israel will uphold her end of the covenant with God and fulfill her purpose. Then God would bless her and "all the peoples on earth will be blessed through (her)." (Genesis 12:3) In the meantime Israel has sought her blessing through other nations and their gods. This has brought a reversal of roles. Instead of the nations of the world looking to Israel to be blessed, Israel has looked for her blessing through other nations. This is not what God intended, but His intention will one day be fulfilled.

Meanwhile, God will abandon the house of Jacob "because they are full of divination from the East and of fortune-tellers like the Philistines. They are in league with foreigners." (2:6) Some depict God as angry and capricious and vindictive. But anyone who draws such a conclusion does not understand Genesis 1:1 or John 3:16 - "In the beginning God . . ." and "For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who . . ." If we understand these passages we realize that God is the source of all that exists, including man, and that what He does comes from a love for those He made. God does not stand for those He has made to give credit for His creation and His blessings to other gods. Not only does it fail to give credit to Him, where it belongs, but it does not lead His people to the blessings He has provided for them. His love drives Him to guide His people, even through discipline, toward the blessings He has for them. If they choose not to seek Him and look instead to other gods for their blessings, God will do as Isaiah 2:6 says, He will abandon them to those gods and those pursuits and to the outcome to which it leads.

When we turn from God, we not only miss the blessings He has for us now, but we face His future judgment which is described in verses 10-16 of this chapter. When God brings judgment on this earth, those who have placed their trust in themselves or in other gods will "Go into the rocks and hide in the dust from the terror of the LORD and from His majestic splendor." (2:10) Then human pride that has claimed to be self-sufficient will be humbled, for then people will realize that it was God all along who has made everything and is the source of all that is good. Then, "the Lord alone will be exalted." (2:11) Not only will "human pride . . . be brought low," people will "throw their silver and gold idols . . . to the moles and the bats," for they will realize they are of no use to them against the true God.