Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Isaiah 8: 1-4


Damascus and Samaria Fall

1 "Then the Lord said to me, 'Take for yourself a large tablet and 
write on it in ordinary letters: Swift is the booty, speedy is the prey. 
And I will take to Myself faithful witnesses for testimony, 
Uriah the priest and Zechariah the son of Jeberechiah.'
So I approached the prophetess, and she conceived and gave birth to a son. 
Then the Lord said to me, 'Name him Maher-shalal-hash-baz; 
for before the boy knows how to cry out ‘My father’ or ‘My mother,’ the wealth of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria will be carried away before the king of Assyria.'"

Packing a punch with the first four verses of Chapter 8, Isaiah receives more direction from God as well as a second child who will speak His Word to the nation of Judah. Rich text today--don't miss a word. (And, yes, the Hebrew names are definitely important! Be not afraid....)

The Lord tells Isaiah (vs. 1) to get a tablet and write "in ordinary letters" or, more literally, with the stylus of man: "Swift is the booty, speedy is the prey." Commentator Matthew Henry refers to this as the "title" of a book. Goodness, we might even call that a "tweet" today, perhaps!

The background I've read suggests that what Isaiah eventually writes goes beyond just a title (and much more than what I've captured on that sandwich board in the picture). The King James Version uses 'roll' instead of 'tablet,' which definitely implies more text than a headline. The chapters of material that we are reading in Isaiah now, pronouncing what was coming at the hand of Assyrian king Tiglath-pileser, is what God was asking the prophet to record in written fashion for all to be able to access and read.

Not only will this information be recorded for posterity, but God takes to Himself (vs. 2) "faithful witnesses" to affirm His words that Isaiah is bringing forth in this writing. This is almost like having a couple of notary publics present, which falls in line with Scripture's mandate that, "'A single witness shall not rise up against a man on account of any iniquity or any sin which he has committed; on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed....'" (Deuteronomy 19:15)

These two "faithful witnesses" are identified by name, and their names are important. The first is Uriah (or Urijah) the priest, whose name means "flame of Jehovah." He was a loyal priest under King Ahaz. The other man is Zechariah (whose name means "Jehovah remembers" or "Jehovah is renown"), who is born of a man named Jeberechiah (whose name means "blessed of God"). We don't really learn anything else about Zechariah or his father, but these are the men God, through Isaiah, chose to serve as witnesses. Burton Scott Easton, writing in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, says, "'faithful witness' means simply 'one whom the people will believe'...."At the time of Isaiah's prophecy, these were the two men for the job. (More on Urijah's faithfulness at the end of this post.)

In verse 3, we switch over to Isaiah speaking, as he says he "approaches the prophetess." This is a term for wife of a prophet, referring to Isaiah's wife. We then learn of Isaiah's second son who, like his big brother (Shear-jashub--"a remnant shall return"--7:3), carries a name that will forever speak to the nation of Judah: Maher-shalal-hash-baz. His son's name--the book's title--"Swift is the booty, speedy is the prey." Or, more thoroughly explained in the Amplified Bible: "...[they (the Assyrians) hasten to the spoil (of Syria and Israel), they speed to the prey]." (8:1)

Every time this boy's mom would call him, a reminder would be issued to Judah that a prophecy was waiting to be fulfilled. Swift and speedy. Recall what we have read before today:

"He will also lift up a standard to the distant nation, and will whistle for it from the ends of the earth; and behold, it will come with speed swiftly."
--Isaiah 5:26

It was only a matter of time before Assyrian forces would come upon Syria (Damascus) and the Northern Kingdom (Samaria). How much time? Look at verse 4: "...for before the boy knows how to cry out ‘My father’ or ‘My mother’...." 'Dada' and 'Mama' were first words for children back in that day, too. Not much time before Isaiah's words on the tablet would mark the demise of Judah's enemies.

Isn't it incredible how God uses the people He chooses? The study of the names and their meanings is also a fascinating one. Everything has so much more significance and points to the foreknowledge of God in all things! As a bonus for today, I have to share a little more about Urijah the priest. Yes, He served God's purposes at the time of Isaiah's prophecy. But, Urijah's loyalty to King Ahaz goes to the extreme after the prophecy against Damascus and Samaria is fulfilled.

The story unfolds in II Kings, Chapter 16. We have been here before, as this is where the alliance between King Ahaz and King Tiglath-Pileser of Assyria is recorded. Isaiah's prophecy is fulfilled as Tiglath-Pileser conquers both nations, saving Judah from the threat of her enemies. So, Ahaz meets the Assyrian king at Damascus following the wars. While there, Ahaz sees an incredible altar, most likely one of Assyrian design. In recognition of Tiglath-Pileser's conquest and to honor his new ally [god or idol!], Ahaz sketches a picture of the altar, taking down details and patterns so that Urijah, the priest, might create an identical one for the temple in Judah.

Though loyalty to the king is good in most other kingdoms, being the earthly spiritual leader and guardian of the temple, and not being loyal to God first pretty much negates any sense of true loyalty (especially when the king isn't loyal to God either!). But, Urijah obeys Ahaz and creates the altar. Then Ahaz further changes the temple order by moving the original bronze altar of the temple out and ordaining that Urijah make sacrifices on the newly created [Assyrian] altar. Ahaz takes the former bronze altar for his own private use, which, it is believed by scholars, likely meant sacrificing to the gods of his choosing depending on his needs at the time.

Can God use anyone to complete His purposes? He sure can! Ahaz wasn't the only one whom God used to fulfill His will. Let's not forget the baby of our story today. God used Him, too. When you begin to grasp how deeply God is involved in the things of this world, you might see Him working a bit more in your own life. I know I do!

God speaks further to Isaiah concerning the fall of these nations.... 'Til next Wednesday!


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Next week: Isaiah 8: 5-8

Note: I read from the New American Standard Bible translation,
specifically, The MacArthur Study Bible (NASB).
I will quote other sources if used in a post.

I also use
Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
(with notes from the King James Version).