Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Isaiah 15: 4-6

4 Heshbon and Elealeh also cry out,
Their voice is heard all the way to Jahaz;
Therefore the armed men of Moab cry aloud;
His soul trembles within him.
My heart cries out for Moab;
His fugitives are as far as Zoar and Eglath-shelishiyah,
For they go up the ascent of Luhith weeping;
Surely on the road to Horonaim they raise a cry of distress over their ruin.
For the waters of Nimrim are desolate.
Surely the grass is withered, the tender grass died out,
There is no green thing.

We continue to look at the judgment on Moab this week in Isaiah, Chapter 15. We are loaded with place names today, as you can see. I always like to look at the vocabulary, so let's figure out the proper nouns before we put things in proper perspective. (Background and Scripture cross-references from The Encyclopedia of the Bible.)

Heshbon--The city, east of the Dead Sea, had a history of takeover by various countries. At one time, Israel, under Moses' direction, captured the city:

"Israel took all these cities and Israel lived in all the cities of the Amorites, in Heshbon, and in all her villages. For Heshbon was the city of Sihon, king of the Amorites, who had fought against the former king of Moab and had taken all his land out of his hand, as far as the Arnon."
--Numbers 21: 25 and 26

Elealeh--This city is very close to Heshbon and even closer to the Dead Sea. Nations wrestled over its ownership as well throughout history. At one point, the city was given to the tribe of Reuben [of Israel] who rebuilt the city.

"The sons of Reuben built Heshbon and Elealeh and Kiriathaim, and Nebo and Baal-meon—their names being changed—and Sibmah, and they gave other names to the cities which they built."
--Numbers 32: 37 and 38

But, not long after, Moab reclaimed Elealeh, though they carried on a dispute over the city with Ammon.

Jahaz--This city was located some 20 miles south of Heshbon, on the Arnon River, and northeast of Moab's idol capital, Dibon. In the same battle that saw the Amorites' King Sihon lose Heshbon to Israel, Jahaz was also turned over.

Zoar--This city may have been located on the southern end of the Dead Sea, though Biblical scholars are not in agreement on this. We read about Zoar in Genesis in the account of Lot and his fleeing Sodom and Gomorrah in the time of God's wrath unleashed upon the cities. 

"The sun had risen over the earth when Lot came to Zoar.... Thus it came about, when God destroyed the cities of the valley, that God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when He overthrew the cities in which Lot lived."
--Genesis 19: 23 and 29

Eglath-shelishiyah--Not on our map, it's a city whose location is not clearly known, though mentioned in both Isaiah's and Jeremiah's prophecies concerning Moab. The King James Version actually reads, "...his fugitives shall flee unto Zoar, an heifer of three years old." Needed some help to understand that.

"In the former case strong and unconquered cities, Zoar and Horonaim, are compared to the heifer not yet broken to the yoke. Such use of 'heifer' is not infrequent (compare Jeremiah 46:20, Hosea 10:11, etc.). The majority of scholars, however, take it as a place-name."
--International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

I will be siding with the majority when we read this passage through momentarily.

Luhith--Possibly another city on the southern end of the Dead Sea, though this location is not for sure. Given how the passage containing the city reads, it may have been on a hill ("go up the ascent of Luhith," vs. 5).

Horonaim--Like Luhith, a possibly southern city, though unconfirmed.

Nimrim--'Nimrim' means basins of clear water. Again, the Biblical scholars are a bit all over the map, literally, in deciding where Nimrim was located. Most suggest it was a stream-oasis near the eastern coast of the Dead Sea.

Now, to our text. Isaiah is addressing the full nation of Moab, doing so through geographical reference points. He begins at the northern segment of the territory, with Heshbon and Elealeh crying out southward to Jahaz. (vs. 4) The cry from the fall of these cities triggers despair by the armies of the men of Moab. Soul trembling by the nation's mightiest warriors. This should help us to understand the depth of devastation to come.

Verse 5: "My heart cries out for Moab." I admit to tripping and stumbling when I came to this statement. 'My' refers to Isaiah. Isaiah was crying out for Moab, not just to Moab--and, truly, he was speaking to Judah. He is the bearer of bad news, but he does not put himself in a position of saying, "God told you this would happen if you didn't behave." This is a window into Isaiah's character--a man of compassion. Thinking back on Jonah and his relationship with Nineveh, we can see a very different man of prophecy.

"...It becomes God’s ministers to be of a tender spirit, not to desire the woeful day, but to be like their master, who wept over Jerusalem even when he gave her up to ruin, like their God, who desires not the death of sinners."
--Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Bible

Continuing with verse 5, Moab's fugitives flee as far as to its southernmost cities. They weep climbing the hill of Luhith, and on the road to Horonaim, they continue to cry out over its ruin. It is nationwide destruction and grief! On top of that, "...the waters of Nimrim are desolate." (vs. 6) As is not uncommon in these situations, there is a drought and famine accompanying Moab's already dreadful situation. "There is no green thing."

Times in Joel's days of prophecy were just as desperate for Judah and they were for Moab. No doubt, what Isaiah was describing of Moab would be a particularly vivid memory for Judah:

"The field is ruined,
The land mourns;
For the grain is ruined,
The new wine dries up,
Fresh oil fails.
Be ashamed, O farmers,
Wail, O vinedressers,
For the wheat and the barley;
Because the harvest of the field is destroyed.
The vine dries up
And the fig tree fails;
The pomegranate, the palm also, and the apple tree,
All the trees of the field dry up.
Indeed, rejoicing dries up
From the sons of men."
--Joel 1: 10-12

"...For the cry of distress has gone around...." Finishing up Chapter 15. ...'Til next Wednesday!

* * *

Next week:  Isaiah 15: 7-9
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, July 24, 2013

Isaiah 15: 1-3

Judgment on Moab

1 The oracle concerning Moab.
Surely in a night Ar of Moab is devastated and ruined;
Surely in a night Kir of Moab is devastated and ruined.
They have gone up to the temple and to Dibon, even to the high places to weep.
Moab wails over Nebo and Medeba;
Everyone’s head is bald and every beard is cut off.
In their streets they have girded themselves with sackcloth;
On their housetops and in their squares
Everyone is wailing, dissolved in tears.

A new chapter of Isaiah brings a new chapter of judgment upon an enemy. This time, it's Moab, Judah's longtime southeastern enemy. 

My first thought of Moab is Ruth, who, you might recall, hailed from the country but chose to follow her mother-in-law, Naomi, back to her home in Judah at the conclusion of a time of famine there and the death of her sons. No one in the Bible is quoted as saying, "Can any good thing come out of Moab?" but if someone were, he or she would be referring to Ruth. You may also remember the story of King Balak of Moab who, out of his fear, tried to bring a curse upon Israel through his prophet Balaam. (God, through His angel, through Balaam's donkey said, "No." [Find the rest of the story in Numbers 22 through 24.])

God found Moab offensive because it worshiped idols. The nation's reliance on them trickled into everything and tainted the lives of God's people on more than one occasion. 

"This they [Moab] will have in return for their pride, because they have taunted and become arrogant against the people of the Lord of hosts. The Lord will be terrifying to them, for He will starve all the gods of the earth...."
--Zephaniah 2: 10-11a
The judgment through Isaiah is not that of complete destruction; God left that oracle to Jeremiah. [Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Bible] "This prophecy here was to be fulfilled within three years (Isa. 16:14), and therefore was fulfilled in the devastations made of that country by the army of the Assyrians...."

Not to escape our passage completely, but Henry makes another statement that I found interesting in referring to the speediness of the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy. It is good every so often to remember the mission of a prophet, and that it is a calling fraught with challenge, at times:

"...That the accomplishment of this prophecy now shortly (within three years) might be a confirmation of the prophet’s mission and of the truth of all his other prophecies, and might encourage the faithful to depend upon them."
--Matthew Henry

This oracle, though referring to Moab, was shared with the people of Judah. In reading through just these few short verses, I found that it sounded like something God would have spoken to Israel or Judah in a time of judgment. King Hezekiah would have been so moved by the sin of his country as to have torn his robes and donned sackcloth in seeking repentance. Isaiah was telling of Moab, and Moab's response, here, would seem similar to Hezekiah's, except for one huge difference. Let's look more closely at our verses.

In verse 1, we read that over the course of a night, Ar and Kir are "devastated and ruined." Ar and Kir are both major cities in Moab--Kir being the capital city. Such destruction in such a short time led the people into mourning. They retreat to the temple to weep, and to Nebo and Medeba. (vs. 2) Mount Nebo, near the Dead Sea, is one of the tall peaks with Pisgah, which is where God led Moses to view the Promised Land. (Deuteronomy 34:1) Medeba is a city about five miles away from Nebo.

With the end of verse 2 and, then, verse 3, come common expressions of grieving for that time: heads are bald; beards are cut; sackcloth put on; and, wailing, not just tears. There is no question that something deeply saddening has occurred. When it comes to the wearing of sackcloth, it is generally a sign, also, of disgrace or humiliation that comes with the grief. There is not just a tremendous loss, but there is sorrow expressed over the behavior that has led to this loss. Consider this example from the cross-referenced verses in today's passage:

"But both man and beast must be covered with sackcloth; and let men call on God earnestly that each may turn from his wicked way and from the violence which is in his hands."
--Jonah 3:8

This quote, from the king of Nineveh, comes following the prophet Jonah's words to the nation. God worked through a reluctant, fearful messenger to deliver a word of life-altering change to the head of the nation. Nineveh chose to follow God as a result, turning away from their sinful ways--at least, at that time. Another humble example of one "dissolved in tears" is Hannah. One of two wives to Elkanah, Hannah was unable to conceive and was repeatedly taunted by Elkanah's other wife over the matter. She cries out her grief to an overhearing Eli, the priest:

"She, greatly distressed, prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly. She made a vow and said, 'O Lord of hosts, if You will indeed look on the affliction of Your maidservant and remember me, and not forget Your maidservant, but will give Your maidservant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and a razor shall never come on his head.' ...But Hannah replied, 'No, my lord, I am a woman oppressed in spirit; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have poured out my soul before the Lord.'"
--I Samuel 1: 10 and 11; 15

Hannah believed that her life was "devastated and ruined" without a child, under the oppression of a difficult household situation. But Hannah--and the king of Nineveh--understood something that Moab did not. Perhaps you noticed that I left out a detail in looking at verse 2:

"They have gone up to the temple and to Dibon, even to the high places to weep."
--vs. 2

The temple is not the temple in Jerusalem. Dibon is the location of the temple of the Moabite god, Chemosh. Not just any Moabite god, but, as most of the reference sources I looked at said, the national god of Moab. As God would call Israel the people of God, the Moabites were called the people of Chemosh. Putting this together, then, all of the wailing and grief measures and humble dress were all offered to Chemosh, to appease and to seek refuge and restoration in him--not God! Such an enormously critical difference. Because it is not the actions of the people that will rectify their devastated state--not if they are reaching out to a false god.
"Note, It becomes a people in distress to seek to their God; and shall not we then thus walk in the name of the Lord our God, and call upon him in the time of trouble, before whom we shall not shed such useless profitless tears as they did before their gods?"
--Matthew Henry
Which leads to asking, is there something over which we are crying profitless tears? The God who knows and holds each tear we cry (Psalm 56: 8) is approachable--waiting and ready to receive us.
"O soul, are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There’s light for a look at the Savior,
And life more abundant and free!
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace."
--lyrics from Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus (Helen H. Lemmel)

"Surely, the grass is withered...," in Moab and elsewhere.... 'Til next Wednesday!

* * *

Next week:  Isaiah 15: 4-6
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).

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Isaiah 14: 28-32

28 In the year that King Ahaz died this oracle came:

Judgment on Philistia

29 “Do not rejoice, O Philistia, all of you,
Because the rod that struck you is broken;
For from the serpent’s root a viper will come out,
And its fruit will be a flying serpent.
30 “Those who are most helpless will eat,
And the needy will lie down in security;
I will destroy your root with famine,
And it will kill off your survivors.
31 “Wail, O gate; cry, O city;
Melt away, O Philistia, all of you;
For smoke comes from the north,
And there is no straggler in his ranks.
32 “How then will one answer the messengers of the nation?
That the Lord has founded Zion,
And the afflicted of His people will seek refuge in it.”

We could have covered verse 28 in last week's post. But that would have been like one of those season-ending cliff-hangers. "What?! What did the oracle say? What happens next?!...." So, let's take it all in this week.

It is interesting that this message comes with a timeframe, albeit vague. (And the fact that my study Bible says the year of King Ahaz's death is uncertain adds to that ambiguity!) But, we know the king died when Hezekiah began his term, which puts the time between 727 and 716/15 B.C. The Reformation Study Bible suggests the latter date is "preferable" since it occurs 14 years before the fall of Samaria at the hands of the Assyrians--also, the timeframe in which the Philistines were revolting against Assyria.

Ah, the Philistines. If you caught the fact that this week's passage is divided by a subhead in my study Bible, then you see 'Philistia'. And, if you see 'Philistia,' you can figure out from whence cometh the Philistines. Philistia (see map above) was a territory located in what is now southwestern Palestine. ['Palestine' is derived from Philistia/Philistine. (Encyclopedia of the Bible)] Throughout the Bible, the Philistines are public enemy #1 to God's people (David and Goliath just one of many stories). Just as Assyria faced God's judgment in oppressing God's people, so will the Philistines, according to this prophecy. Their judgment closes out Isaiah 14.

Remember, an oracle is a burden or inspired message of concern. Why was this coming before Judah at this time by Isaiah? Upcoming threats. We must continue to review history in light of prophecy.

King Uzziah was the first king under which Isaiah served. Generally, he was considered a "good" king, in that he followed the Lord, most of the time. God would strike him with leprosy for taking the duties of the priest, but God granted him successes, including a take-down of the Philistines.

"Now he [Uzziah] went out and warred against the Philistines, and broke down the wall of Gath and the wall of Jabneh and the wall of Ashdod; and he built cities in the area of Ashdod and among the Philistines. God helped him against the Philistines...."
--II Chronicles 26: 6 and 7a

So a precedent had been established, but, under King Ahaz (king #3 for Isaiah), Judah disbanded its Godly obedience. With the rising of Assyria as a threat to everyone, the Philistines sought to build up alliances for self-preservation. With Ahaz's passing and the torch being passed to his son, Hezekiah, the possibility for a Philistia/Judah coalition remained on the table for consideration. Thankfully, as we have seen in our review of Scripture, Hezekiah was not the man or king his father was. Having Isaiah--and his prophecies--for guidance demonstrated the wisdom of Hezekiah in keeping the nation secure under the ultimate reign of God.

Back to this week's verses, Uzziah appears to be the 'rod' spoken of in verse 29, especially since the Philistines came back to conquer portions of Judah during Ahaz's tenure. Lest the Philistines should gloat too much, the Lord plans to raise up "a viper" [Hezekiah] to squelch the rise of the nation, not to mention put a damper on the Assyrian revolt, at least, for that time.

"And the Lord was with him [Hezekiah]; wherever he went he prospered. And he rebelled against the king of Assyria and did not serve him. He defeated the Philistines as far as Gaza and its territory, from watchtower to fortified city."
--II Kings 18: 7 and 8
Conditions had been so poor under the rule of Ahaz. God says, in verse 30, that when Judah's poorest returned to being able to eat and when its weakest would consider it safe to lie down, then He would strike Philistia with "smoke from the north" (vs. 31)--that being the armies of Hezekiah. Who would have thought the north would rise again? But, Hezekiah "trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel; so that after him there was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor among those who were before him. For he clung to the Lord; he did not depart from following Him...." (II Kings 18: 5-6, excerpts) And the Lord is the one who sets the world in order. Recall His righteousness and fairness in this from Isaiah, Chapter 11:

"But with righteousness He will judge the poor,
And decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth;
And He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth,
And with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked."

--Isaiah 11:4
“How then will one answer the messengers of the nation?" (vs. 32) is the question closing out the passage and the chapter. The Philistines were bringing forward their offer, to band together to stand against Assyria. How would Judah respond?

"That the Lord has founded Zion, and the afflicted of His people will seek refuge in it."
--vs. 32, (i.e., the answer)
Not the answer the Philistines were looking for, yet they shouldn't have been surprised. How did David answer Goliath? "For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should taunt the armies of the living God?" (I Samuel 17: 26b) The battle belongs to the Lord, and the Lord has founded Zion, therefore, we're sticking with our God!
Zion, being Jerusalem, the home of God's people, was founded with the intent that God's people would be able to return to it, time and time again until the time of the final Zion. God would be found with and by His people.

"By faith he [Abraham] lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God."
--Hebrews 11: 9-10

The story of the Bible is God keeping His people together. The Philistines would never come to grasp this greater truth, and, thus, faced God's judgment. Yes, God is the designer and builder of our earthly homes, but His plan is not just for a structure but for the goal of keeping His people faithful together, to lead and disciple others in the faith. They will then know that they will always have safety, provision, a "refuge," in the presence of God. This is the true hope of the Church--God's eternal presence!

"The poor of his people shall betake themselves to it (so some read it), shall join themselves to his church and embark in its interests; they shall concur with God in his designs to establish his people, and shall wind up all on the same plan, and make all their little concerns and projects bend to that. Those that take God’s people for their people must be willing to take their lot with them and cast in their lot among them. Let the messengers of the nations know that the poor Israelites, who trust in God, having, like Zion, their foundation in the holy mountains (Ps. 87:1), are like Zion, which cannot be removed, but abides for ever (Ps. 125:1), and therefore they will not fear what man can do unto them."
--Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Bible


Judgment on Moab.... 'Til next Wednesday!

* * *

Next week:  Isaiah 15: 1-3
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, July 10, 2013

Isaiah 14: 24-27

Judgment on Assyria

24 The Lord of hosts has sworn saying, 
“Surely, just as I have intended so it has happened, 
and just as I have planned so it will stand, 
25 to break Assyria in My land, and I will trample him on My mountains. 
Then his yoke will be removed from them 
and his burden removed from their shoulder. 
26 This is the plan devised against the whole earth; 
and this is the hand that is stretched out against all the nations. 
27 For the Lord of hosts has planned, and who can frustrate it? And as for His stretched-out hand, who can turn it back?”

Not only Babylon, but all of Assyria would face judgment at the hand of the Lord. Isaiah includes a few short verses here on Assyria before then launching into judgment on Philistia. No one escapes judgment, and that's a main theme in today's passage.

"...To break Assyria in My land...." We have already talked about Assyria, back in Chapter 10--God using the nation as a disciplinary force against Israel and Judah. We traced the path of the mighty Assyrian Sennacherib in his march toward Judah, knocking out cities all along the way. (Read post, here.) But, under God's provision, Sennacherib would not only not take Jerusalem, but he would face the power of the God of Angel Armies.

"'For I will defend this city to save it for My own sake and for My servant David's sake.' Then it happened that night that the angel of the Lord went out and struck 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians...."
--II Kings 19: 34 and 35a 
For its aggression against God's people, the Lord brings a judgment yet to come, for the "yoke" and "burden" have not yet been fully removed from His people. (vs. 25)
Although the header for this section is regarding Assyria, today's passage is such a wonderful character study of God Himself. What God intends to have happen, will happen. What He plans, stands. (vs. 24) We can think back to the characters of past rulers, now minding their time on their thrones in Sheol, who likely thought of themselves in the same regard. But which one can say with all truth that every plan born was a plan that went down per its exact ideation?

"But He is unique and who can turn Him? And what His soul desires, that He does."
--Job 23:13

Job may not have understood what was happening around his life's circumstances, but he gives us a wonderfully succinct response regarding something of who God is. The one and only. Unparalleled. Not to be replicated. 

And, not to be thwarted. With verse 26, we return to some phrasing that Isaiah has used before: "...The hand that is stretched out against all the nations." Let's take a quick look back at Isaiah, Chapter 5:

"On this account the anger of the Lord has burned against His people,
And He has stretched out His hand against them and struck them down.
And the mountains quaked, and their corpses lay like refuse in the middle of the streets.
For all this His anger is not spent,
But His hand is still stretched out."
--Isaiah 5:25 (emphasis mine)

There is a hand that holds Jesus and the souls of the righteous in their heavenly places, and there is another hand that can cradle and comfort, or stretch out and strike His Creation. The Chapter 5 passage refers to God's people, and His hand did not hold back the punishment that was to come. It can be difficult to understand the extent of God's discipline. But it would be worth our while to consider the tremendous extent of God's mercy, grace and patience in light of the ongoing sinful behavior of man that leads to such a level of discipline. When we come to grips with the incredible love that He has for us such as to exhibit the greatest of restraint over our sin, then we might pray strong words like King Hezekiah: "...Deliver us...that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You alone, O Lord, are God." (II Kings 19:19)

In verse 26, the hand that is stretched out is against all of those who have come up against God's people--against "the whole earth." "All the nations." The ultimate plan has been the same since God originally came up with it. His chosen people will be saved! Who can "frustrate" that plan? "Who shall disannul it? (King James Version) There is not one who can stand against the "unique" one.

So why try? Ah...submission. Submission of everything. Our complete selves. I think we feel that God "frustrates" that plan. Do we ever think it's out of love? We love having clear-cut plans, making plans, making back-up plans, trying to keep our lives in perfect order. So easy to forget that we are not in the order-establishment business.

In his commentary, Matthew Henry speaks of this prophecy of Isaiah's, asking the question why would people care? It would not be for 200 years following Isaiah's words that people would see God's intervention in Babylon. Why should these words carry such weight, for them, for us?

"The Lord of hosts hath sworn, that he might show the immutability of his counsel, and that his people may have strong consolation."
--Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Bible

God not only speaks of who He is with such great authority, but He swears an oath to His people that they will see it as He has called it. Are we consoled by the fact that hope in our Lord is an eternal perspective? Henry pulls in the wisdom of the Hebrews in support:
"In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us."
--Hebrews 6: 17-18 

"...And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us."
--Romans 5:5

Judgment on Philistia.... 'Til next Wednesday!

* * *

Next week:  Isaiah 14: 28-32
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).