Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Isaiah 13: 9-12

Behold, the day of the Lord is coming,
Cruel, with fury and burning anger,
To make the land a desolation;
And He will exterminate its sinners from it.
10 For the stars of heaven and their constellations
Will not flash forth their light;
The sun will be dark when it rises
And the moon will not shed its light.
11 Thus I will punish the world for its evil
And the wicked for their iniquity;
I will also put an end to the arrogance of the proud
And abase the haughtiness of the ruthless.
12 I will make mortal man scarcer than pure gold
And mankind than the gold of Ophir.

Isaiah joins with fellow prophets, like Joel and Amos, in bringing forth mention of the Day of the Lord. He is in the midst of pronouncing God's punishment upon Babylon, in Chapter 13, and his narrative will now move clearly from post-exilic Judah to the end times. Verse 9 lays it out: "cruel," "fury," "burning anger," "desolation." As much as Jerusalem may have been decimated by Nebuchadnezzar's forces, a "desolation" as is being described by Isaiah hasn't been seen since the days of Noah. And this will be worse than that because it's permanent! "He will exterminate its sinners from it." That is a truly dreadful picture (unless you know the Lord's salvation!).

Verse 10 moves into a more physical description of what will happen. The Day of the Lord is marked by an absence of light in any of its natural forms. "Oh, when the sun, refuses to shine...Oh, Lord, I want to be in that number...." Even as "He will exterminate its sinners," He will welcome those who have received Jesus into the number of the saints of Heaven! But the earth and all of creation will respond as God begins to exterminate light upon the world. The prophets, Jesus in the Gospel accounts and John in his Revelation all speak of this loss of light. But, I love how Paul describes creation's response, as he recalls the metaphor of childbirth (trouble, labor, torture), which we have been discussing here:
"For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body."
--Romans 8: 22 and 23

What is happening is the once-and-for-all punishment of the world's evil. (vs 11) God also makes specific reference to one of the overriding attitudes of the heart that leads to so much of the world's wickedness and evil: pride.

"'The proud look of man will be abased
And the loftiness of man will be humbled,
And the Lord alone will be exalted in that day.'"
--Isaiah 2:11

I'm sure I've said this before, but, there's a reason why "Thou shalt have no other gods before Me" is Commandment #1! When we lean so heavily upon ourselves for strength and celebrate all that we can be and do--in the absence of God--we are causing the creation to groan! Who is to be exalted? The Lord, alone! As happy as we might be over something we've done, or things our children have done, or things others have done, if we aren't saying that prayer of thanksgiving to thank God for what He has done through everything, then we are changing the look of our face (pride) and the height of our stature (loftiness)--and God's plans for dealing with those things will not be our own (abased and humbled).

Yes, this is Day of the Lord reading, but look back at Babylon before its takeover by the Medes and Persians. We looked at Belshazzar (Neb's son) a bit last week and God's literal hand in writing the happenings to come. Look at what Daniel says to him:

"Yet you, his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, even though you knew all this, but you have exalted yourself against the Lord of heaven; and they have brought the vessels of His house before you, and you and your nobles, your wives and your concubines have been drinking wine from them; and you have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which do not see, hear or understand. But the God in whose hand are your life-breath and all your ways, you have not glorified."
--Daniel 5:22-23  (emphasis mine

Taking the items from the Temple and using them vicariously were stupid, disrespectful mistakes. But the bigger problem was the pride that ruled over Belshazzar's heart. (And this, after his father had been so severely humbled for his pride by God! Pride so blinding, Belshazzar could not even see it through his father's mistakes.) Babylon may disappear from the realm of world domination, but, she does return, and her pride continues to rule.

"To the degree that she glorified herself and lived sensuously, to the same degree give her torment and mourning; for she says in her heart, 'I sit as a queen and I am not a widow, and will never see mourning.'"
 --Revelation 18:7 (on the fall of Babylon)

In verse 12, God compares the presence of man in this Day to that of "finding pure gold." Ophir, also mentioned in this verse, is mentioned in a couple of other places in the Bible. Though its geographical location is unconfirmed, with every mention it is clear that it is a known home for gold. Ophir's gold, yes, available. But the finding of men will be "scarce," as they will fall at the hand of the Lord.

"Then I said, 'Lord, how long?' And He answered, 'Until cities are devastated and without inhabitant,
Houses are without people
And the land is utterly desolate,
'The Lord has removed men far away,
And the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land."

--Isaiah 6: 11-12 (Isaiah asking how long he has to prophesy)

Though men will be "scarce," some will remain. "Like a terebinth or an oak whose stump remains when it is felled, the holy seed is its stump." (Isa. 6:13b)


More from the Day.... 'Til next Wednesday!

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Next week: Isaiah 13: 13-16

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).

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Isaiah 13: 6-8

Wail, for the day of the Lord is near!
It will come as destruction from the Almighty.
Therefore all hands will fall limp,
And every man’s heart will melt.
They will be terrified,
Pains and anguish will take hold of them;
They will writhe like a woman in labor,
They will look at one another in astonishment,
Their faces aflame.

The New American Standard Bible indicates this section of Isaiah 13 as "Judgment on the Day of the Lord." Certainly, as we read through, you will see obvious signs that Isaiah is pointing to the end times. But, we might also read these words as a prophecy with a double fulfillment, seeing the defeat of Babylon by the Medes and Persians as an initial fulfillment of God's words to Isaiah. Isaiah, the writer, is very much present in this passage today, as we receive a very visual picture.

"Wail" or "Howl ye," as the King James Version of verse 6 reads--"the day of the Lord is near!" This is definitely not a "Rejoice!" or "Sing praises!" event for those who have not received the Lord's salvation. "Weeping and gnashing of teeth" comes to mind as a response. The day shall bring "destruction" and that at the hand of the Almighty--El Shaddai (God of the mountain, Encyclopedia of the Bible). How do you describe that destruction? Isaiah begins by reflecting on the appearance of those who will experience it firsthand.

"All hands will fall limp," verse 7, or "All hands be feeble" in the Amplified Bible. The study notes in the Amplified consider this passage in light of an event in the Babylon of Judah's captivity. Daniel 5 tells the story of then King Belshazzar, King Nebuchadnezzar's son, who had a party one night, worshiping false gods while drinking wine in abundance out of the stolen precious gold and silver vessels of the Temple. Suddenly, a hand appears and begins writing on the wall.

"Then the king’s face grew pale and his thoughts alarmed him, and his hip joints went slack and his knees began knocking together."
--Daniel 5:6
The prophets are giving us a picture of incredible fear with these images. The strong hand of God printed the words that would bring Belshazzar to his knees, literally. He would die, powerless, that night as the city would be taken over, and Darius the Mede made king. Prophecy fulfilled.
But, Babylon is not completely dead. Indeed, "Babylon" will rise (and fall) again, as Revelation tells us; this is the center of operations of the Antichrist. (Revelation 14) Isaiah's words will come back in the faces of those who witness the return of Christ and His armies, as He faces His earthly enemies once and for all. "Every man's heart will melt," or liquefy, as the Hebrew might also be translated. [Strong's] "Strength will rise as we wait upon the Lord," will not be the chosen lyrics or reality of Babylon!

"And they [of Babylon] shall be dismayed and terrified, pangs and sorrows shall take hold of them; they shall be in pain as a woman in childbirth. They will gaze stupefied and aghast at one another, their faces will be aflame [from the effects of the unprecedented warfare]."
--Verse 8, Amplfied Bible

Besides "weeping and gnashing of teeth," another often-used Biblical image of pain is that of "a woman in childbirth." Head back to Genesis 3:16 for the pronouncement: "To the woman He said, 'I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth, in pain you will bring forth children....'" The King James Version of verse 8 uses the phrase "woman that travaileth," the root words of that meaning "pangs of childbirth, trouble, toil, labor, torture." (World English Dictionary) Scripture's picture of this kind of pain is not an immediate infliction but a drawn-out ordeal. Childbirth is a process, with increasingly difficult stages of pain. Having experienced this process twice (without medication), I have an appreciation for this metaphor!

Even so, we cannot comprehend fully what the Day of the Lord will look like, though it will leave the mightiest earthly warrior "in astonishment." (vs. 8) We say we are living in the last days, but are these the days of tribulation, as Scripture tells us are coming? The pangs of the end times come in seals and trumpets and bowl judgments, to use the words of Revelation. The events of the past few days--bombings and earthquakes and abominable crimes against new life--make me turn to Revelation and other passages, wondering if the time is at hand and if it's time to measure the size of those "contractions":

"When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be frightened; those things must take place; but that is not yet the end. For nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will also be famines. These things are merely the beginning of birth pangs."
--Jesus, speaking of the Tribulation, in Mark 13: 7 and 8

How long will this labor be? As we travail through these last days, are our eyes looking toward our Strong Deliverer? "Babylon" is beckoning.

"You are the everlasting God
The everlasting God
You do not faint
You won't grow weary
You're the defender of the weak
You comfort those in need
You lift us up on wings like eagles."
--from "Everlasting God," lyrics by Chris Tomlin 

Mortal man is scarce.... 'Til next Wednesday!

* * *

Next week: Isaiah 13: 9-12

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).

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Isaiah 13: 1-5

Prophecies about Babylon

1 The oracle concerning Babylon which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw.
2 Lift up a standard on the bare hill,
Raise your voice to them,
Wave the hand that they may enter the doors of the nobles.
I have commanded My consecrated ones,
I have even called My mighty warriors,
My proudly exulting ones,
To execute My anger.
A sound of tumult on the mountains,
Like that of many people!
A sound of the uproar of kingdoms,
Of nations gathered together!
The Lord of hosts is mustering the army for battle.
They are coming from a far country,
From the farthest horizons,
The Lord and His instruments of indignation,
To destroy the whole land.

As mentioned at the end of last week's post, with Isaiah, Chapter 13, we begin an 11-chapter exposition of the prophecies concerning foreign nations. God will let loose words of fire upon those nations who are not His people. We begin with Babylon, which, in the time that Isaiah received this word, was not a world-dominating power. It was part of the Assyrian Empire. But, we know that the world's situation changed, as Babylon became an empire all its own, sweeping Judah out of its land.

Beginning with the first verse, we come to the word oracle, which commonly means a response or pronouncement of something by one with authority. ( "The Hebrew word can mean a literal weight, corresponding to the idea that the prophetic word is a heavy responsibility for the prophet who must deliver it." (Reformation Study Bible). Matthew Henry suggests the burden is that which is coming upon Babylon, meaning a word they are struggling to hear. Not being followers of God, the Babylonians would not have recognized this message as carrying much weight at the time, although the ultimate cost to them was and will be enormous.

Let's look at verse 2 in the Amplified Bible:

"Raise up a signal banner upon the high and bare mountain, summon them [the Medes and Persians] with loud voice and beckoning hand that they may enter the gates of the [Babylonian] nobles."
--Isaiah 13:2 (Amplified Bible)

I wonder if Babylon would have paid more attention to this oracle had they the Amplified Bible version? We looked at 'standard' when Isaiah used the word in 5:26--"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." God's raising a flag, a sail, a sign to call the nations of His choosing into service. Look at all the capital "My's" in verse 3! Look at how God calls them, too: "consecrated," "mighty," "proudly exulting." What we need to understand--as we had to understand about the calling of Assyria to conquer Israel--is that God is calling the nations! He is assembling the best warriors--not followers--to squelch His anger.

With verse 4, Isaiah grants us a visual and auditory picture of how such a gathering might look and sound. "Tumult" and "uproar" as God pulls up these nations from their places, giving them the mindset of heading for an all-out war without the mindset of knowing that it was for heavenly purposes.

"God’s sanctified [consecrated, my add] ones, designed for this service and set apart to it by the purpose and providence of God, disengaged from other projects, that they might wholly apply themselves to this, such as were qualified for that to which they were called, for what work God employs men in he does in some measure fit them for."
--Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Bible

When God can use the gifts and skills of those who do not believe for His service, how can we who believe doubt that He can use us as we are for His purposes? Wouldn't even bring this up if it weren't something I hear from believers pretty often. Think about it....

The end of verse 4 might be more literally translated as "the Lord of armies musters the army." As the Lord of hosts, God is in control of everything in the heavenly realms and the earthly realms. The "God of angel armies" can command the earthly forces of the nations as well--nations that will come from the "farthest horizons." (vs 5) The Medes and Persians? Really? His "instruments of indignation" will not fail Him.

Babylon's judgment on the Day of the Lord.... 'Til next Wednesday!


* * *

Next week: Isaiah 13: 6-8

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).

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Isaiah 12: 4-6


And in that day you will say,
Give thanks to the Lord, call on His name.
Make known His deeds among the peoples;
Make them remember that His name is exalted.”
5 Praise the Lord in song, for He has done excellent things;
Let this be known throughout the earth.
6 Cry aloud and shout for joy, O inhabitant of Zion,
For great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.

Matthew Henry considers our passage today the second part of an "evangelical song" in which the singers show thanksgiving to God through prayer ("call on His name," vs 4); by preaching and writing ("Make known...Make them remember"; "Let this be known," vss 4 and 5); and, by expressing our joy ("Cry aloud and shout for joy," vs 6). As we will see from looking at the verses, it is a song the Israelites will sing upon their ultimate reunion with "the Holy One of Israel," (vs 6) but it is a song that has been sung and needs to continue to be sung until that Day.

As we saw with the first part of Isaiah 12, the overall theme of the passage is thanksgiving. The remnant has been preserved and given passage safely home to the final Promised Land and covenant redemption in God through His Son. Only the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, could have brought the people to this place. The response is an outward expression of overwhelming gratitude. 

This idea of giving thanks and sharing the message of God's goodness reaches back to the earliest of days for the people of God. We looked at a small portion of song of Moses in last week's post, written in thanksgiving for God's hand in delivering the Israelites out of the hands of Pharaoh and into safety. It was not enough to just thank God in the moment, but to remember and to share--share through the generations--the works of God. One of my favorite Old Testament Scriptures is Deuteronomy 6: 5-9, in which we are commanded to love God and to teach others to do likewise as we "talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates." It's not a message for today, only, but for every day and everyone.

"One generation shall praise Your works to another,
And shall declare Your mighty acts."

--Psalm 145:4

The psalmists wrote poems and songs that were meant to be sung in the moment, but, also, to be passed down through the ages. How many contemporary Christian songs are based on their words, offering today's generations the opportunity to praise, give thanks and remember the "mighty acts" of God? We are called to "praise the Lord in song" (vs 5) and even to sing to Him a "new song" (Psalm 33, 96, 98, among others), but in doing so, are we remembering the works done of old, not just that done in the moment? In making known His deeds, we establish that the Lord has been doing good things FOREVER, not just today. Not only that, but we exalt the name of the God who Himself is goodness, not just today, but FOREVER! (vs 4)

"We must not only speak to God, but speak to others concerning him, not only call upon his name, but (as the margin reads it) proclaim his name; let others know something more from us than they did before concerning God, and those things whereby he has made himself known.... When the apostles preached the gospel to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem, then this scripture was fulfilled, that his doings should be declared among the people and that what he has done should be known in all the earth."
--Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Bible

For Israel, in that Day, they shall surround the now-realized Hope of their salvation, Jesus Himself, and worship Him with shouts and cries for joy! (vs 6) For those who know this Hope already, the cry is that more might know Him--through our calling on Him, and making Him and His works known--before that Day arrives.

"Until the whole world hears, Lord, we are calling out
Lifting up your name for all to hear the sound
Like voices in the wilderness, we're crying out
And as the day draws near
We'll sing until the whole world hears...."

--Lyrics from Until the Whole World Hears, by Casting Crowns

Change of tune as Chapter 13 begins many chapters of Isaiah focusing on God's word against the nations. We start with Babylon.... 'Til next Wednesday!


* * *

Next week: Isaiah 13: 1-5

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).