December 6, 2015
Scripture and Comments, December 6-12
Is. 25, Acts 14:1-18
Is. 26, Heb. 12
Since chapter 9, Isaiah has warned about God’s judgement on the nations. Usually his messages have been about specific nations, which have opposed God and oppressed His people. Often, they have even included the Jews, warning of their coming conquest by Babylon, and Israel’s coming conquest by Assyria. Chapter 25 expands the judgement to all nations, but also extends His grace to all nations.
The judgement begins with Babylon. She is the defensed city which becomes a heap of ruin (2). This happens when the Persians conquer and sack the city in 586. Yet, there is a sense in which Babylon represents all peoples, cities, and nations. There is a sense in which this chapter looks beyond the fall of Babylon and the return of the Jews to Jerusalem. There is a sense in which it looks toward the work of our Lord Jesus Christ and His invitation to people of every nation to come into His Kingdom, and become partakers with Israel of His unbounded grace.
This Kingdom of grace is symbolised as a great feast given by God to which all are invited (6). The veil (7) is the veil of death which covers a corpse in the grave. It symbolises being dead in sin, and its removal is the forgiveness of sin and the resurrection to new life in God through faith in Christ. The death of sin will be swallowed up in victory through God’s grace. Even physical death is victory to those in this Kingdom, for even that veil will be removed, as the souls of the dead in Christ rise to be with Him at death, and their bodies rise to meet the Lord at His return. The earth will ring with the cry of verse 9, “this is the Lord; we have waited for Him, and He will save us; we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation.”
“This mountain” means far more than the physical Mount Zion (6, 10). It is the Lord Jesus Christ, whose death and resurrection accomplish what the Temple and animal sacrifices could only symbolise (Heb. 9:19-23,10:1-4). It is through His blood that we are forgiven and made partakers of the feast of fat things (good meat) and “wines on the lees well refined.”
But devastation comes before renewal, and death comes before resurrection. This is as true for Christians and the world as it was for Jerusalem and Babylon. Before a person can be raised to new life in Christ, he must die to sin and self (Rom. 6:11). The old person, with its sinful attitudes habits, ideas, and morals, must die and be buried. Only then can the new man be raised to new life in Christ. Likewise, the old world must pass away before the new world can be fully established. Its corruption and unGodliness must die before its veil of death can be removed and it be restored to the perfection and peace of Christ (2 Pet. 3:10-13).
That day (1) refers to the destruction and renewal of chapter 25. The strong city is Jerusalem, yet we can detect a veiled reference to the spiritual Jerusalem, which is the New Testament Church, also known as the New Jerusalem. The lofty city, Babylon (5) as in chapter 25 also looks beyond the physical Babylon to include all who oppose God and resist His Church. That spiritual Babylon, like the ancient city itself, will be laid low in the dust. God’s people are encouraged to remain faithful while God works out His plan for the world. We know God will ordain peace for us at last (12), but in the meantime we must hide (in Christ) until the indignation (destruction of all evil in the final days) be overpast (20, 21).
Is. 27, Acts 14:18-28
Is. 28, Heb. 12
“In that day” (vs. 1) shows that the theme begun in chapter 25 continues in 26. The sea (1) represents the Godless, churning Gentiles, with their constant idolatry, wars, and building and destroying empires. Leviathan, the serpent, and the dragon all represent Satan and his control over the Gentiles. Even he will be punished (see also Rev. 20:2). The return of Israel and Judah to their own lands after the fall of Babylon (13) is a symbol of God gathering His people out of every land and tribe to be one people in Christ.
Isaiah 28 tells rebellious Israel (Ephraim) that its crown of pride and wealth will be taken from it. Again we remember that, as Isaiah’s ministry began, Israel had joined Syria in a war on Judea. Syria and Israel wanted to resist the advance of the Assyrian Empire, which threatened to conquer and destroy them. Alone, they were no match for the Assyrian war machine. Even together they had little chance of surviving an Assyrian attack. But Syria, Israel, and Judea united would be a formidable army. Egypt would probably join forces with them, making them so strong the Assyrians would probably not even attack. So Syria and Israel joined their armies to try to force Judea to join them. You remember that Isaiah told Ahaz, king of Judea, that he need not fear Syria or Israel, for before they would be able to mount a serious offensive against Judea, they would both be conquered by Assyria. Chapter 28 is about Israel and God's dealings with her. The prophet takes much time to list the sins of Israel, so her people may know God is patient and kind, giving countless opportunities for repentance and faith. But there is a day when the time of opportunity ends, and the day of wrath begins.
Is. 29, Acts 15
Is. 30, James 1
Most people live for what Dr. Francis Schaeffer called, "personal peace and affluence." If they worship God, or believe in Him at all, they consider Him as one of many articles they possess or use to increase their quality of life. But this is nothing new; the Jews in this passage of Isaiah were doing it seven hundred years before the time of Christ. They gave God lip service, but lived for themselves. Yet, they believed God was satisfied with them, and that their half-hearted participation in the ceremonies and rituals of their religion was more than sufficient to appease God, and to earn His blessing and protection. For generations God called them back to Him. Prophet after prophet was sent to tell them of His love and warn them of His wrath. They ignored God's prophets, preferring instead to appoint prophets of their own choosing who would tell them what they wanted to hear, rather than the Word of God. So God, in Isaiah 29, says even Jerusalem, and even the Temple will be destroyed and leveled by military conquest, along with the people. Ariel is Jerusalem, and God says He will cease sending true prophets, allowing the city to be continually led astray by false ones. He will pour out on the people a spiritual slumber. The word of God will become unintelligible to them. The wisdom of the wise and the understanding of the prudent will disappear, and the people will follow fools and liars.
Sadly, this sounds terribly like what is happening in the Church today. Many have deserted Biblical faith and chosen to place themselves under the tutelage of false teachers. Others offer lip service to God, while treating Him more like a servant than like God. If God was willing to level the Temple and conquer the Jews with war, can we expect Him to let such sin go unchastised today?
Isaiah's news is not all bad, however. Even in wicked Jerusalem there are still righteous people who seek and love God. They, and many who repent of their sins and return to God, will be blessed, even amid the suffering and conquest of Jerusalem.
It seems to the king of Judah that the whole world is at war and that his tiny country is going to be drawn into it and destroyed by it. In the east, the Assyrians are rising to power. Ruthless warriors, they will soon conquer most of the other nations in the area. Syria and Israel are trying to fight Assyria, and want Judah as an ally. Their kings are joining forces to attack Judah in an attempt to force the Jews to join them. To the west, Egypt is preparing its own powerful war machine to do battle with the Assyrians. If Egypt had acted earlier, she could have easily stopped the Assyrian advance, but delay and appeasement policies have allowed most of the Middle east to fall under Assyrian domination, and now it will take war on a massive scale to stop Assyria. Even mighty Egypt will fall under the Assyrian army. Judah lays right in the middle of these two super powers, and both of them want Judah. Believing Egypt will be the better ally, the King of Judah attempts to make a treaty with the pharaoh. This is an arrangement the Egyptian king gladly accepts. It allows Egypt to put soldiers in Judah and use the Judean army and the Judean countryside as a buffer in case of an Assyrian attack. To the pharaoh, Judah is useful only as a place to fight Assyria. He would gladly sacrifice it to keep the horrors of war out of his own territory. That is why one of the major points of Isaiah 30 is that there is no hope for Judea in Egypt (vs. 7).
But Judah’s real problem is that she seeks her security in the things of the world instead of in God. She looks to the king of Egypt to deliver her, rather than to the King of Kings who holds the stars in His hand and raises or casts down nations as He pleases. Isaiah's book has many passages beseeching the Jews to return to God and promising His protection and blessing if they do, but the Jews reject his message. They want prophets who tell them happy things and prophesy peace to them (9-11). They do not want to hear a message that requires faith and holiness. They do not want to hear preaching that requires them to turn away from sin, or to find fulfillment in God instead of the possessions, pleasures, and amusements of this life. Thus, the Jews cast God aside in a vain attempt to cling to their "happiness" in earthly things, and, as a result, they lose both (12-14).
Yet the unfaithfulness of Judah does not annul the purpose of God. God called Abraham and his descendants to be the people through whom the Saviour would come in the fullness of time. Their unfaithfulness cannot stop God. But not all in Judah have turned away from God. Verses 15-33 tell of God's grace on the remnant who abides in Him, and of the fulfillment of His purpose for them in the Kingdom of the Messiah.
Is. 31. Acts 16:1-14
Is. 32, Jas. 2
One of the Jews’ continuing sins is the reliance on political/military alliances, instead of God, to secure them against enemy invasions. The problem with depending on other nations is that they are self-oriented. They are concerned with their own security and self-preservation. Thus, when their security is better served by breaking the treaty with Judah and making an alliance with the Jews’ enemies, they do it. The same happens today and always.
Almost hidden by Judah’s desire to ally with Egypt against Assyria, is the fact that this is done instead of repenting of sin and turning to God. Part of God’s Covenant with Israel in His protection from enemies. He, who delivered His people from Egypt and enabled them to settle Canaan, can easily protect them from the hand of the Assyrians. But God’s promise is conditional. His protection is for Israel only as long as she keeps her part of the Covenant. Her constant transgressions nullify the Covenant and release God from all obligations to her. If God continues to help and bless the Jews, it is because He is merciful, not because Israel deserves it. Turning to Egypt, instead of God, then, is rebellion against God. It is another breach of contract and failure to keep the Covenant, or, treaty, with God. Thus God says, “Turn ye unto him [God] from whom the children of Israel have deeply revolted” (6). If the people turn to Him, He will protect them from Assyria (8, 9).
We live in a fallen world, and the evidence of sin is all around. Fools are considered wise. The wicked are envied and called good. Cheating is considered good business. The ungodly are called spiritual. This is nothing new. It is the trend of mankind from the beginning, and it was true even of the Old Testament chosen people of God. But it will not always be this way. Isaiah looks to a time when a righteous King will rule a righteous people, and there will be justice, and wisdom, and generosity, and Godliness on earth. In one sense Isaiah 32 and 33 look forward to the end of time, when God's people dwell with Him in a place where they will see and know God face to face, where the desire to sin is gone forever, and where the peace of God will shine like a thousand suns. In another sense these chapters look to the era of the New Testament Church. In the Church we live in the Dominion of the King of Righteousness, and everything the Old Testament says about a future of peace and blessing is being fulfilled in the Church. She is that new humanity, a people restored to God's original purpose for mankind, a Kingdom of peace, generosity, respect, wisdom, and love. This is what makes the local church so important. Through it we participate in the new humanity. Through it we live in the new Kingdom. Judah learned there was no hope in Egypt, and the Church must learn there is no hope in the world. We must stop looking to "Egypt" and start looking to Christ.
Is. 33, Acts 16:15-40
Is. 34, Jas. 3
The chapter begins with a pronunciation of judgement on Assyria. She is the one who “spoilest" (invades and plunders other nations) but has not been plundered. She deals treacherously with others, pretending to be an ally while plotting to murder and plunder her victims. But her victims will rise up and deal treacherously with her. As Isaiah writes these words, Assyria is the most powerful empire in the area, but Babylon is growing stronger. Soon, she will be powerful enough to conquer the Assyrians, and take their empire from them. In that day, the conquerors will become the conquered.
The valiant ones and ambassadors of verse 7 may refer to emissaries sent by the Jews’ attempting to secure military and political alliances with Egypt and other Gentile nations. They weep because their efforts have failed. The Jews’ hope for peace by means of alliance, turns to fear (14) as they realise they may become like a pile of dry thorns burning in the fire of an invading army (11-14).
Yet, God promises to deliver those who despise the gain of oppression (refuse bribes) and refuse to shed innocent blood or look upon evil (15). A fortress of rocks and bread will be given to them. Like earlier parts of this section of Isaiah, there is an eschatological tone to these verses. Those who follow Christ in faith, which is shown by the fruit of the Spirit, will be protected by the Rock in the Day of judgement. They will eat the Bread of Life and drink Living Water.
Some parts of Isaiah are shadows of coming events. Some are symbols of greater events and Persons. But this chapter is explicitly eschatological in nature. It tells of the Lord’s wrath upon all nations, which is openly stated in verses 1 and 2, and symbolised by Idumea (Edom) in verse 5. The nations are the unbelievers, those who are not found in Christ at His Return. The chapter describes the destruction of the world as the sword of the Lord striking and destroying it and its people in the day of His vengeance (5, 8). He will roll up the universe the way a man rolls up a scroll (4). The chapter ends with the promise, or warning, depending on whether you are in Christ or among His enemies, that not a word of this prophecy will fail to happen (16, 17).
Is. 35, Acts 17:1-15
Is. 36, Jas 4
God allows Isaiah to see into the more immediate future, when the Jews will return to Jerusalem and Judah after the Babylonian Captivity. Jerusalem is the wilderness and solitary place of verse 1. Once a thriving city, her conquerors have turned her into a wilderness and a desert. But God will make her rejoice and blossom as the rose. Lebanon (2) is known for its cedars, which make strong lumber, from which Lebanon has profited greatly. David used them in his palace, and Solomon used them in the Temple. Isaiah is being told they will be used in the new Temple after the return to Jerusalem.
Some of the Jews will be afraid to return to Jerusalem. Many will become very comfortable in Babylon, and will not want to leave it. Others will fear the dangers of the journey through deserts and robbers. God tells them to be brave. Strengthen the hands and knees made feeble with fear (3, 4). For God will come to save them from enemies.
Verses 5-10 tell of the wondrous provision of God for His returning people. Jerusalem, now compared to a desert, will then be compared to a land of abundant lakes and rivers, where “shall be grass with reeds and rushes.” The road to Jerusalem is a well travelled trade route. It will be a highway for the Jewish people. Leading them to Zion, it will be called “holiness,” a reminder that the true Zion is in Heaven, and holiness is the only way to it.
This passage also has an eschatological meaning. Our Lord takes us to the Heavenly Jerusalem. His holiness becomes our highway to eternal glory. Thus the passage tells of the glories of Heaven. It also foreshadows the New Testament Church. It, too, dwells in Babylon, surrounded by enemies. Those outside of it think it too small and weak to have any real effect on the world, and many think they can easily destroy it. Some consider it a desert, and have no desire to enter it. In reality it is a place of abundance and glory. Its present state of apparent desolation will not last. The Heavenly Jerusalem waits for it, and the Highway to the true Jerusalem is the holiness of Christ, given by His grace and received by faith.
Isaiah takes us back to his own time. It is the “fourteenth year of king Hezekiah,” which is around 701 B.C. Sennacharib is king of Assyria. He has invaded Judah, and has conquered Lachish, from which he sends Rabshakeh to Jerusalem demanding its surrender. Lachish is a fortress about 30 miles southwest of Jerusalem. It is designed to guard a main route to Jerusalem. Its fall means there is nothing between the Assyrian army and Jerusalem but open road. Worse, if the fortress of Lachish can be conquered by the Assyrians, Jerusalem, which is not nearly as well fortified, seems to have no hope of surviving an attack.
The Assyrian warns that Egypt cannot help Jerusalem. It is a broken reed, which will pierce Jerusalem’s hand if it leans on it (6). He even tells the people God has sent Sennacharib to destroy Jerusalem (10). In verses 16 and 17, Rabshakeh promises to treat the Jews well if they surrender. They will be left alone until the Assyrians move them to another place, which will be as pleasant for them as their own homes. He tells them that the gods of other lands (in which the Jews also believe and worship) were unable to deliver them from Assyria, and the God of Judah is also unable (19, 20). The chapter closes with Hezekiah, king of Judah, mourning with his advisors.
Is. 37, Acts 17:16-34
Is. 38, Jas. 5
Hezekiah is one of the few good kings of Judah. He naturally goes to the Temple to pray about the situation. He wisely calls for Isaiah, but Isaiah does not come. Instead, he sends a message via the kings servants. The message instructs the king to be brave and trust God in the face of seemingly certain conquest and death by torture. It says God will send a blast on Sennacharib, and he will return to his own land, where he will die by the sword (7). Based on this message, Hezekiah refuses to surrender to Sennacharib.
Rabshakeh returns to Sennacharib, who is now laying siege to Libnah. The city’s exact location is unknown, but many believe it is south of Lachish toward Egypt, and Sennacharib, confident that Jerusalem would surrender without a fight, is moving toward his real goal of conquering Egypt. Angry at Hezekiah’s refusal to surrender, he sends a letter (10-13) to Jerusalem, which essentially says the city will not be delivered from his army.
Hezekiah’s faith is almost shattered by the letter. He goes to the Temple, lays it before the Lord, and prays (14-20). Isaiah, under God’s leadership, sends another letter to the king. The subject of the letter is Sennacharib’s departure from Judah and his death in Nineveh. Just as the Lord said, Sennacharib returns to Nineveh (37), where he is killed by is own sons while worshiping in the temple of the gods he believes will enable him to conquer Jerusalem (38).
Hezekiah is dying. He has a boil (21), and it is fatal. But God heals the boil and gives him fifteen more years of life (5). God also promises that Assyria will not conquer Jerusalem. Faithful to His word, as always, God allows Judah to enjoy relative peace for the remainder of Hezekiah’s life. He dies around the year 687 B.C.
Verses 9-22 come from the pen of the king after his miraculous healing. Few people receive such healing. Fewer still receive such signs as God gave Hezekiah to enable him to believe the Assyrians will not conquer his people (7, 8). His words, “The living, the living, he shall praise thee” (19) remind us of the words of Christ, “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (Mt. 22:33). Our Lord spoke these words as He addressed the Sadducees about the resurrection. His meaning is clearly that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, though physically dead for over two-thousand years by the time of Christ, yet live. Their bodies, also, will live, because God will raise them from the grave. Those who are in Christ, do not die (Jn. 11:26). They live on after this life is over. In that mysterious existence, of which we receive only the briefest glimpses, often wrapped in deep symbolism, God’s people live with Him. “The living, the living, he shall praise thee.”