Thursday, May 30, 2013

Isaiah 14: 5-9

5 "The Lord has broken the staff of the wicked,
The scepter of rulers
6 Which used to strike the peoples in fury with unceasing strokes,
Which subdued the nations in anger with unrestrained persecution.
7 "The whole earth is at rest and is quiet;
They break forth into shouts of joy.
8 "Even the cypress trees rejoice over you, and the cedars of Lebanon, saying,
‘Since you were laid low, no tree cutter comes up against us.’
9 "Sheol from beneath is excited over you to meet you when you come;
It arouses for you the spirits of the dead, all the leaders of the earth;
It raises all the kings of the nations from their thrones."

We join Isaiah, Chapter 14, in the midst of the singing of a taunt-song. God has provided the words and approved of its boisterous singing in the face of the "king of Babylon," representing the "rulers" (vs 5) who have oppressed His people Israel. We will continue to study this song over the next couple of posts.

"The oppressor has ceased...," (vs 4) because God has brought a final end to the tyranny of the oppressors. Verses 5 and 6 explain that God is the only one who could have (and will) break the "staff" and the "scepter" of those who have kept Israel in bondage. The power of these kings could not be broken otherwise.

"He smote the people, not in justice, for their correction and reformation, but in wrath, to gratify his own peevish resentments, and that with a continual stroke, pursued them with his forces, and gave them no respite, no breathing time, no cessation of arms. He ruled the nations, but he ruled them in anger, every thing he said and did was in a passion; so that he who had the government of all about him had no government of himself."
--Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Bible

Again, this "king" is a representation of all the rulers who came up against Israel. The time in Babylon was particularly brutal, but encounters with the Romans hadn't even happened yet, much less the arrival of the Antichrist. There are many for whom this taunt-song will be sung come that Day. Verse 7 describes the time: "rest" and "quiet." There is no more warring against each other, nor are God's people restrained, imprisoned or crushed. Aye, there is a victory song to be sung, as the Lord's people will know the true joy of being with--not just being ruled under the Law by--Him:

"O sing to the Lord a new song,
For He has done wonderful things,
His right hand and His holy arm have gained the victory for Him.

The Lord has made known His salvation;
He has revealed His righteousness in the sight of the nations.

He has remembered His lovingkindness and His faithfulness to the house of Israel;
All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God."
--Psalm 98: 1-3

What else expresses this joy? The Creation! In this passage, it is two of the mightiest trees of the region--the cypress (above) and the cedar--that respond with thanksgiving to the presence of God. "'Since you [king of Babylon] were laid low, no tree cutter comes up against us.'" If I were a tree, I would probably say that, too. But the Reformation Study Bible provides a bit more insight into the significance of the quote: "Assyrian kings boast in their annals of the magnificent trees they carted off from pillaged lands to build their splendid palaces." The sacred items of the Temple were "chopped off" and taken to Babylon for use at a cocktail party. No more would such "trees" by such "tree cutters" be used against God.

Verse 9 closes out today's passage, though we will continue with these thoughts into next week's passage. "Sheol from beneath is excited over you to meet you...." We looked at Sheol a bit earlier in Isaiah. It is the Hebrew word for the grave. Figuratively--and Isaiah, we know, is a writer and poet and metaphor-lover--the word means death. Some refer to it as a place of the dead and some to Hell itself. Poetically, Isaiah is suggesting that there is a place where all humiliated oppressors of the Jews will gather. The Bible (Revelation) is clear as to what actually happens at judgment time.

So, Sheol is excited to have some new people to join the party, if you will. How do we know it's a party? The "kings of the nations" will arise "from their thrones" [of Sheol] to meet the new guests. I really like how the Amplified Bible elaborates on the end of verse 9: "...It raises from their thrones [in astonishment at your humbled condition] all the kings of the nations." (emphasis mine) "You, really? Here? How is that possible? You were the best! The very best! He got you, too, huh? I...I can't believe you're here. Let's grab a hot hors d'oeuvre ['cause what other kind are there here?!] and chat."

It is not lost on me how huge this turnabout is. Who was going to Sheol in Isaiah 5? Jerusalem!
"Therefore Sheol has enlarged its throat and opened its mouth without measure; and Jerusalem’s splendor, her multitude, her din of revelry and the jubilant within her, descend into it."
--Isaiah 5:14

Ask an Israelite carried off into Babylonian captivity and he might well have said it was Sheol. But even after their tortuous existence there, God delivered them! Because He is not a ruler who "subdued the nations in anger with unrestrained persecution." Harsh punishment, no doubt. But He delivers out of love, out of a covenant promise to love. He does it continually as He seeks to save the lost for His sake. He knows that the days of ultimate righteousness are on the horizon, and is waiting for all to be in His number before the singing starts.

The preparations in Sheol.... 'Til next Wednesday!

* * *

Next week: Isaiah 14: 10-15
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, May 22, 2013

Isaiah 14: 1-4

Israel’s Taunt

1When the Lord will have compassion on Jacob and again choose Israel, 
and settle them in their own land, then strangers will join them 
and attach themselves to the house of Jacob.
The peoples will take them along and bring them to their place, 
and the house of Israel will possess them as an inheritance 
in the land of the Lord as male servants and female servants; 
and they will take their captors captive and will rule over their oppressors.
And it will be in the day when the Lord gives you rest from your pain and turmoil 
and harsh service in which you have been enslaved,
that you will take up this taunt against the king of Babylon, and say,
“How the oppressor has ceased,
And how fury has ceased!...."

With judgment pronounced upon Babylon, Isaiah moves, in Chapter 14, to a picture of Israel at the end times, post-Babylon's destruction. Mind you, there is a flavor of post-exilic, return-to-Jerusalem times here, too, as other commentaries suggest. Since Isaiah didn't report exact years, and prophecies can have more than one application and fulfillment, we have to leave open the possibility that some verses may apply to more than one time. As a whole, though, I agree with John MacArthur and crew that our verses today speak more of the end times. Just something to keep in mind. Please comment and discuss as you feel led....

My study Bible uses "Israel's Taunt" as the Chapter title, with 'taunt' also translated as 'proverb.' (vs. 4) A proverb of 16 verses is not what we might think of as a proverb, given the style of sayings in the Book of Proverbs. But, given the Hebrew definition of a proverb--"properly a pithy maxim, usually of a metaphorical nature; hence a simile (as an adage, poem, discourse)" [Strong's]--it would appear that Isaiah penned prophecy that would later become fulfilled and used as a taunt-song in the end times. At that time, no interpretation will be necessary.

Verse 1 does establish a time in that this occurs when God "has compassion" and "chooses" Israel (Jacob). Let's be clear that Israel has always been God's chosen people. However, over the course of the history of that covenant, God has shown favor but He has also withdrawn His favor in the form of tough love. Recall that the Apostle Paul ministered mostly to Gentiles, but his heart was for his own people, the Jews, to obtain salvation through Jesus Christ. They had not recognized God's compassion in sending the Messiah. In Chapters 9 through 11 of Romans, Paul answers the question of why Israel sees Christ as a stumbling block in their salvation:

"What then? What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened; just as it is written,
'God gave them a spirit of stupor,
Eyes to see not and ears to hear not,
Down to this very day.'"
--Romans 11:7-8

God had not abandoned Israel, but He often put His people in a position of not knowing His compassion and mercy; He gave them hardened hearts. As the verse in Romans says, "down to this very day." It's still true! But, God's covenant with His people is still intact, and these days will not always exist. Thus, verse 1, the time had come around again for God to show His compassion and providence over Israel. And it will come around once and for all for Israel at the end times.

Verse 1 also brings up "strangers" who will join Israel in Jerusalem. Who are they? If you look at this as a near-fulfillment prophecy, this would suggest displaced Babylonians who would return with the Israelites to Jerusalem after the Medo-Persian takeover. In a more far-reaching view, "strangers" could refer to those who come to faith in Christ during the time of the Tribulation. New Jewish believers, as Revelation 11:13 tells us, will arise amidst the "fury." (Isa. 14:4)

"...But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one...."
--Ephesians 2:13-14a (spoken to the Gentiles, but applies to lost Jews, too)

Let's look at verse 2 from the Holman Christian Standard Bible:
"The nations will escort Israel and bring it to its homeland. Then the house of Israel will possess them as male and female slaves in the Lord’s land. They will make captives of their captors and will rule over their oppressors."

Getting into verse 2 really illustrates to me that this is Israel in the last days. God will have paved the roads for His people. Recall Isaiah 11:16, "...A highway from Assyria for the remnant left of His people...." God's people are coming home! Those that had held them captive will now be their captors, and Christ and His people will rule. How's that for a turnaround of events?! The "them" in the passage refers back to the "strangers." If it seems odd that Israel would make their fellow newly converted Jews "slaves," then we need to look at that from a different perspective:

"These proselytes should not only be a credit to their cause, but very helpful and serviceable to them in their return home: The people among whom they live shall take them, take care of them, take pity on them, and shall bring them to their place—as friends, loth to part with such good company—as servants, willing to do them all the good offices they could.... Those whose lot is cast in the land of the Lord, a land of light, should take care that their servants and handmaids may share in the benefit of it, who will then find it better to be possessed in the Lord’s land than possessors in any other."
--Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Bible (emphasis mine)

Verse 3 gives us another time reference: "And it will be in the day when the Lord gives you rest...." Even in their release from Babylon, the Israelites did not escape physical slavery completely nor would they know complete spiritual freedom. But when they do, the taunt-song will be sung against Babylon (much like singing Justin Bieber annoys certain siblings in this house!). 

The last part of verse 4 actually begins the song: "How the oppressor has ceased,and how fury has ceased!" The King James Version uses "the golden city ceased" instead of 'fury,' which would certainly relate to Babylon. The note in my study Bible says, "Amended from the meaningless medhebah to marhebah." In Hebrew, 'marhebah' means boisterous, raging behavior (from which would come 'fury'. Remember, in Isaiah 13:13, we looked at 'fury' to mean unrelenting, passionate violence). In the NIV The New American Commentary by Gary V. Smith, he explains that 'medhebah' could come from an Aramaic form of 'gold' or might refer to a tribute, again, the "golden city." However you translate it, the result is the same: Peace, peace, peace and reconciliation for God's people!


More singing from Israel as the taunt-song continues.... 'Til next Wednesday!

* * *

Next week: Isaiah 14: 5-9
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, May 15, 2013

Isaiah 13: 20-22

20 It will never be inhabited or lived in from generation to generation;
Nor will the Arab pitch his tent there,
Nor will shepherds make their flocks lie down there.
21 But desert creatures will lie down there,
And their houses will be full of owls;
Ostriches also will live there, and shaggy goats will frolic there.
22 Hyenas will howl in their fortified towers
And jackals in their luxurious palaces.
Her fateful time also will soon come
And her days will not be prolonged.

Today, we finish Chapter 13. Oh, guys, it's been a tough chapter. Hard to read this material, even though the final outcome is God's victory. Truly horrifying images. Isaiah's descriptions in these last three verses, though full of life literally, spell out the final death of the glorious nation of Babylon. (Note, the prophecy at the end of the chapter is about end-times Babylon.)

Death to the city comes in its being uninhabited. (vs. 20) My small group Bible study has been working through Kelly Minter's Nehemiah: A Heart That Can Break [which I highly recommend!]. We just finished exploring how the exiles of Judah were returning from Babylon to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and to reestablish the heritage of the Jewish people through their residency in the city. She quotes Warren Wiersbe in The Bible Exposition Commentary: History as saying, "A city is much more than walls, gates and houses; a city is people."

Although the area in which Babylon was located would be lived in by various populations after the Medo-Persian conquest, at the time of the ultimate fulfillment of this prophecy, no person will take residence here. No foreign visitors ("Arabs") to pay tribute nor wandering shepherds to bring their sheep to graze. "But desert creatures will lie down there...." (vs 21)

"And he cried out with a mighty voice, saying, 'Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place of demons and a prison of every unclean spirit, and a prison of every unclean and hateful bird.'"
--Revelation 18:2

Whatever lush and beautiful nature remained of Babylon would cease to be. What an eclectic mix of animals to inhabit the city: owls, ostriches, goats, hyenas and jackals. (vs. 21 and 22) Owls and hyenas (see picture above) are known howlers in the animal world. In fact, the Amplified Bible uses 'wolves' instead of 'hyenas'. Rather than people bustling about their homes, the howlers will cry out. Ostriches and jackals ('dragons' in the King James Version) are desert-dwellers, the latter to take up residence in the "luxurious palaces" of the city.

Pulling out 'shaggy goats' from the list to highlight some word usage across translations. A more literal phrase used is "goat demons." Think "wild goats," which is used in the New International Version and the Amplified Bible, among other translations. The King James' translation of the end of verse 21 reads: "...satyrs shall dance there." Perhaps you recall what satyrs are from Greek mythology--the half man/half goat creatures. In general, the Hebrew word means "hairy one." In this passage, "...the meaning is that the place referred to shall become a desolate waste. Some render the Hebrew word 'baboon,' a species of which is found in Babylonia." (Easton's Bible Dictionary)

Isaiah stresses, in the last sentence, that Babylon's destruction would be coming soon. For those in Jerusalem hearing this prophecy--of Babylon's rise, their exile to the city, and its fall--the understanding and emotions must have run the gamut. Matthew Henry, in his commentary, makes an interesting observation about the value of this prophecy to the people:

"This prophecy of the destruction of Babylon was intended for the support and comfort of the people of God when they were captives there and grievously oppressed; and the accomplishment of the prophecy was nearly 200 years after the time when it was delivered; yet it followed soon after the time for which it was calculated."
--Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Bible

Even though most of what we have talked about today has yet to occur, and God did not grant Isaiah a vision into the actual timeframe of events, we should take comfort--as did those in Jerusalem--that God's Word will come to pass and to complete fruition. That the time of our "groaning" on this earth by those who oppress us and those who would come to stand against our Lord and Savior "will not be prolonged." (vs. 22)

"Israel's Taunt"--Chapter 14 begins.... 'Til next Wednesday!

* * *

Next week: Isaiah 14: 1-4
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, May 8, 2013

Isaiah 13: 17-19

Babylon Will Fall to the Medes

17 Behold, I am going to stir up the Medes against them,
Who will not value silver or take pleasure in gold.
18 And their bows will mow down the young men,
They will not even have compassion on the fruit of the womb,
Nor will their eye pity children.
19 And Babylon, the beauty of kingdoms, the glory of the Chaldeans’ pride,
Will be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah.

Although we have mentioned their name in posts since starting Chapter 13, Isaiah makes it official that Babylon will fall to the Medes.

God speaks, in verse 17, "I am going to stir up the Medes against them...." Time to find out a little more about these folks. Looking at the map above, you can see where Media was located and its close proximity to Babylon. Interestingly, the Medes had allied themselves with Babylon to conquer Assyria, capturing and destroying the city of Nineveh. But their alliance did not stand, as Persia took advantage of a weak Median king and conquered the nation. The two nations became united under Cyrus the Persian to cause the fall of Babylon in 539 B.C., more than 70 years after Media's initial alliance with Babylon. [Details from my study Bible, the Reformation Study Bible and Easton's Bible Dictionary]

Picking up the rest of the text of verse 17 from the Amplified Bible: "[The Medes] ...who have no regard for silver and do not delight in gold [and thus cannot be bribed]." Though a little detail, you can see the hand of God in hand-picking His avenger. He would not set up a situation in which an empire would prosper materialistically. His "instrument of indignation" (13:5) would only delight in seeing the blood of its enemy poured out before him. Verse 18 picks up with just that thought, as the Medes will "mow down" or "dash to pieces," as we read in last week's text, Babylon's young soldiers. 

The Medo-Persian armies will have no "compassion on the fruit of the womb." (vs. 18) Recall that the "dash to pieces" reference from verse 16 is used first in regard to "little ones."

"Pause a little here and wonder: That men should be thus cruel and inhuman, and so utterly divested of all compassion; and in it see how corrupt and degenerate the nature of man has become. That the God of infinite mercy should suffer it, nay, and should make it to be the execution of his justice, which shows that, though he is gracious, yet he is the God to whom vengeance belongs...."
--Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Bible

There is a man currently on trial in Philadelphia for such crimes related to such "little ones." Matthew Henry's words as to the corrupt and degenerate nature of man sound loudly in the face of today's happenings. How does the God of infinite mercy suffer this? How long will He suffer this??

The end is coming for Babylon, which had quite a reputation in its day. There was nothing that its kings could not have or get. Life was lavish. Read through Daniel. Catch a glimpse of the lifestyle of Nebuchadnezzar and the beauty of the city he created: "The king reflected and said, ‘Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?'" (Daniel 4:30) But, "the glory of the Chaldean's pride" was just that--the glory of pride, not the glory of God. King Neb was humbled by God to see the truth, but not his son, Belshazzar.

"It is foretold that it should be wholly destroyed, like Sodom and Gomorrah; not so miraculously, nor so suddenly, but as effectually, though gradually; and the destruction should come upon them as that upon Sodom, when they were secure, eating and drinking.... Babylon was taken when Belshazzar was in his revels; and, though Cyrus and Darius did not demolish it, yet by degrees it wasted away and in process of time it went all to ruin."
--Matthew Henry

Inhabited, but not by people. Closing out the prophecy on Babylon and Chapter 13.... 'Til next Wednesday!


* * *

Next week: Isaiah 13: 20-22

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, May 1, 2013

Isaiah 13: 13-16

13 Therefore I will make the heavens tremble,
And the earth will be shaken from its place
At the fury of the Lord of hosts
In the day of His burning anger.
14 And it will be that like a hunted gazelle,
Or like sheep with none to gather them,
They will each turn to his own people,
And each one flee to his own land.
15 Anyone who is found will be thrust through,
And anyone who is captured will fall by the sword.
16 Their little ones also will be dashed to pieces
Before their eyes;
Their houses will be plundered
And their wives ravished.

We continue forward this week with Isaiah 13 and the prophet's speaking of Babylon's doom at the Day of the Lord. Last week, we looked at creation's response, and Isaiah picks up with that thought in verse 13 as the "heavens tremble" and the "earth will be shaken from its place." Across Scripture, from the prophets to Revelation, the Day of the Lord is associated with some type of earth-quaking. We saw this earlier in Isaiah:

"Men will go into caves of the rocks
And into holes of the ground
Before the terror of the Lord
And the splendor of His majesty,
When He arises to make the earth tremble."

--Isaiah 2:19

Verse 13 reminds us that it is the "fury of the Lord of hosts" that will bring about His Day. 'Fury' implies not just unrestrained violence but strong passion as well. As passionate as God is about His love for His people, He is equally passionate in His hatred of those who are enemies of His people.

"'Is it nothing to all you who pass this way?
Look and see if there is any pain like my pain
Which was severely dealt out to me,
Which the Lord inflicted on the day of His fierce anger.'"

--Lamentations 1:12

This cross-referenced verse from Lamentations was written regarding Jerusalem at the time of its exile into Babylon. But, in the Day of the Lord, it will be Babylon who will cry out in its pain as the righteous, yet "burning" anger of God is poured out upon them for their treatment of His people.

Isaiah turns back to metaphors in verse 14 as he begins, describing Babylon as a "hunted gazelle." These shy, deer-like animals would find themselves quickly on the move from a roaring, furious lion of a God. "Or," says Isaiah, next, "like sheep with none to gather them." There are so many references to humans being like sheep in the Bible. Sheep wander. They go astray. We attribute this to our sinfulness, our falling short, our trying to be in control of things apart from God. Sheep in a lost situations like this:

"When Jesus went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and He felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and He began to teach them many things."
--Mark 6:34

The end times picture for Babylon is not one of compassion. The Shepherd is not coming to gather them in and to "teach them many things." The time for that has come and gone. Babylon will be on the run ("flee to his own land," vs 14) for the rest of its time, overcome by fear.

"The army they shall bring into the field, consisting of troops of diverse nations (as great armies usually do), shall be so dispirited by their own apprehensions and so dispersed by their enemies’ sword that they shall turn every man to his own people; each man shall shift for his own safety; the men of might shall not find their hands (Ps. 76:5), but take to their heels."
--Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Bible

Verse 15 indicates that no one will be spared who is in any way associated with Babylon. I love what Matthew Henry says in regard to this: "It is dangerous being in bad company, and helping those whom God is about to destroy." Seems like a no-brainer, but you need to know who the enemy truly is. In addition to the groaning of creation, one of the other predominant themes of the days approaching the end times is that they will be filled with false prophets and teachers. The Antichrist will have many attractive qualities that will sway, confuse and mislead the masses, including some believers. 

Isaiah is warning: "anyone" who is hooked up with the wrong crowd is headed for destruction. Verse 16 is graphic and direct. It sounds horrible. It sounds unimaginable from a loving God. We have to take this fully in context, though. All of its history and all of its history in the making have led Babylon to this position. They brought it on themselves.

"O daughter of Babylon, you devastated one,
How blessed will be the one who repays you
With the recompense with which you have repaid us.

How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones
Against the rock."

--Psalm 137: 8 and 9

"Savior, like a Shepherd, lead us. Much we need Thy tender care...."

Isaiah calls the Medes out by name.... 'Til next Wednesday!

* * *

Next week: Isaiah 13: 17-19

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).