Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Isaiah 17: 7-9

7 In that day man will have regard for his Maker
And his eyes will look to the Holy One of Israel.
He will not have regard for the altars, the work of his hands,
Nor will he look to that which his fingers have made,
Even the Asherim and incense stands.
In that day their strong cities will be like forsaken places in the forest,
Or like branches which they abandoned before the sons of Israel;
And the land will be a desolation.

In the day when God's people will be carried off into captivity, then they will turn back to Him. Whether a captive or a member of the escaped remnant, Isaiah says that eyes "will look to the Holy One of Israel" and "have regard for his Maker." (vs. 7)
Isaiah has already described the time of judgment to come (and he has more to say on that in the next couple of weeks). There is "desolation" (vs. 9) coming to the land. Few--two or three olives on the top bough of an olive tree, if you remember last week's metaphor--will escape from the hand of the Assyrians; most will be taken away. Whatever blinders covered the eyes of the people will be removed, and they shall see clearly that their need for God is great.
"These few that are preserved are such as, in the prospect of the judgment approaching, had repented of their sins and reformed their lives, and therefore were snatched thus as brands out of the burning, or such as having escaped, and becoming refugees in strange countries, were awakened, partly by a sense of the distinguishing mercy of their deliverance, and partly by the distresses they were still in, to return to God."
--Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible
In returning to God, one sees not only His greatness, but his or her own weakness and falling away. It shall also be with Israel. Part of the process of returning was repentance, which meant addressing the sin which caused the distancing from the Holy One in the first place. For Israel, idolatry led to a multitude of sins.

"Their land has also been filled with idols;
They worship the work of their hands,
That which their fingers have made."
--Isaiah 2:8
But, no longer. Isaiah uses this same phrasing in verse 8--with a big 'not', now--to show the change that will come in His time. It is, perhaps, a good place to remind ourselves that God was truly unhappy with the behavior of His people, but His discipline came out of love and to effect a change for the better. A change back to the original ways of the Covenant, when God first called His people 'My people'.
"Come, let us return to the Lord.
For He has torn us, but He will heal us;
He has wounded us, but He will bandage us."
--Hosea 3:5, the response to God's rebuke (Hosea and Isaiah served a parallel time in ministry, the first to Israel and the second to Judah--the coinciding of their message themes is most definitely not an accident.)
Back to verse 8, Asherah was a Canaanite fertility goddess, symbolized by sacred groves and poles. (Reformation Study Bible) Even though the Canaanites were no longer in the Promised Land, their idols still maintained a presence. [The power and allure of sin in a nutshell!] But now Isaiah speaks of a time in which the Asherim poles, incense stands, or other items of idol worship would not draw the people's affections, focus, or time in craftsmanship. Indeed, when facing a similar idol-worship conflict, Judah experienced a fulfillment of this prophecy during the time of King Josiah:

"...he also tore down the altars and beat the Asherim and the carved images into powder, and chopped down all the incense altars throughout the land of Israel. Then he returned to Jerusalem."
--II Chronicles 34:7
Verse 9, also "in that day," "'s strong cities will be like the deserted places of the Amorites and the Hivites which they abandoned." This is from the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Old Testament. The cities of Syria and Israel would face total destruction by Assyria. The pictures Isaiah has painted for us show a vacant landscape. Why did the Septuagint mention the Amorites and the Hivites? The NASB text says, "...which they abandoned before the sons of Israel." The Amorites and the Hivites were before the sons of Israel arrived.
I alluded to this part of Scripture just a bit ago when talking about God's naming of His people. In Exodus 34, we read of God's grace in His preparation of second tablets of the Ten Commandments, after the first broke in Moses' response to the golden calf incident. Not only does God make new tablets, but He renews His Covenant with His people--they get another chance, the first of "seventy times seven." (Matthew 18:22) Look what God says to them:
"'Be sure to observe what I am commanding you this day: behold, I am going to drive out the Amorite before you, and the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite. Watch yourself that you make no covenant with the inhabitants of the land into which you are going, or it will become a snare in your midst. But rather, you are to tear down their altars and smash their sacred pillars and cut down their Asherim—for you shall not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God...."
--Exodus 34: 11-14 (italics mine)
The Amorites and Hivites were among those who lived in the land of Canaan prior to its providential takeover by God's people, Israel. Take note, too, of the warnings of God about the influence of these nations. Don't worship other gods. "...Cut down their Asherim...." Make no covenants with other nations. Isaiah says to Syria and to Israel, you have not listened to the Lord and His Word. As those who had occupied the land before them had to flee from invasion, so shall they, at the hand of the "Jealous" One.

"They shall be as the cities (so it may be supplied) which the Canaanites left, the old inhabitants of the land, because of the children of Israel, when God brought them in with a high hand, to take possession of that good land, cities which they built not. As the Canaanites then fled before Israel, so Israel should now flee before the Assyrians. And herein the word of God was fulfilled, that, if they committed the same abominations, the land should spue them out, as it spued out the nations that were before them (Lev. 18:28)...."
--Matthew Henry 
 When one plants "delightful plants...." ...'Til next Wednesday!

* * *

Next week:  Isaiah 17: 10 and 11
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, September 18, 2013

Isaiah 17: 4-6

Now in that day the glory of Jacob will fade,
And the fatness of his flesh will become lean.
It will be even like the reaper gathering the standing grain,
As his arm harvests the ears,
Or it will be like one gleaning ears of grain
In the valley of Rephaim.
Yet gleanings will be left in it like the shaking of an olive tree,
Two or three olives on the topmost bough,
Four or five on the branches of a fruitful tree,
Declares the Lord, the God of Israel.

Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves,
Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.
--"Bringing in the Sheaves," lyrics by Knowles Shaw

Rarely do I read a text with 'harvest' in it that this hymn does not come to mind. (It's one of my dad's favorites, too.) We have been enjoying a wonderful bounty of summer vegetables this year, and the beginning of fall is the time to bring in the last of the harvest, "ere the winter storms begin" to quote another seasonal hymn. The harvest is to be a time for rejoicing. A time of thanksgiving. A time to celebrate God's provision and His goodness.

For Syria and Israel in this prophecy of Isaiah, Chapter 17, this harvest would be one to remember, yet not to be celebrated. Last week, we read about God's Glory waning from Israel. Today, Isaiah picks up with more of the same, as "the glory of Jacob will fade" (vs. 4)--Jacob being another name for Israel. What was once "fat," basically, the largeness of the 10 Northern tribes, will become "lean." Assyria will cause the fall of the nations, taking its people off--once again--into captivity.

Sowing in the sunshine, sowing in the shadows,
Fearing neither clouds nor winter’s chilling breeze;
By and by the harvest, and the labor ended,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

Israel had The Glory over itself for years and years, not fearing its circumstances. But they sowed in places they shouldn't have planted seeds by worshiping false gods, and placing their reliance on and pledging their allegiance to foreign nations that did not worship God. Now, they would know the full impact of having their "hedge of protection" removed, and Assyria would come rejoicing, bringing in the slaves.

In verse 5, Isaiah provides rich detail of a harvest picture. The harvester or husbandman cuts down and carries the last of the grain, and gleans the last kernels from the ears of corn in the field. Not just any field, but the lush growing landscape that is the valley of Rephaim, west of Jerusalem. Of all the harvest joints, near all the towns, in all the world, Isaiah walks us into the valley of Rephaim (as if Casablanca's Rick Blaine were reminiscing.) When David was made king over Israel, his nation was at war with his/its life-long nemesis, the Philistines. Twice, at Rephaim, God led the nation's mightiest warrior/king to victory. It would seem not a coincidence to me that Isaiah would use this very place in reference to another mighty victory by a king--only with a drastically different outcome.

"Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, 'First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.'"
--Matthew 13:30
There would be both "tares" and "wheat" in the Assyrian conflict, though not "fat" wheat, if you will, and the "barn" is not one of security. "...Gleanings will be left in it," says verse 6, as we are told that there will be a remnant. It will be a "lean" remnant. Isaiah describes it as one who harvests an olive tree (see above). They are shaken, so the olives fall from the branches of the tree. What remains can be counted on the fingers of one's hand. As the Word of God would pronounce it, what remains on the olive tree after harvesting, "...shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow." (Deuteronomy 24:20) Indeed, this was the remainder.
"The Lord will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be left few in number among the nations where the Lord drives you. There you will serve gods, the work of man’s hands, wood and stone, which neither see nor hear nor eat nor smell."
--Deuteronomy 4: 27 and 28 

As we also know, this is not the end of the story of Israel.

"But from there you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul. When you are in distress and all these things have come upon you, in the latter days you will return to the Lord your God and listen to His voice. For the Lord your God is a compassionate God; He will not fail you nor destroy you nor forget the covenant with your fathers which He swore to them."
--Deuteronomy 4: 29-31
Going forth with weeping, sowing for the Master,
Though the loss sustained our spirit often grieves;
When our weeping’s over, He will bid us welcome,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

Picking up on God's prophecy for Israel in Deuteronomy 4:31. ...'Til next Wednesday!


* * *

Next week:  Isaiah 17: 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, September 11, 2013

Isaiah 17: 1-3

Prophecy about Damascus

1 The oracle concerning Damascus.
“Behold, Damascus is about to be removed from being a city
And will become a fallen ruin.
“The cities of Aroer are forsaken;
They will be for flocks to lie down in,
And there will be no one to frighten them.
“The fortified city will disappear from Ephraim,
And sovereignty from Damascus
And the remnant of Aram;
They will be like the glory of the sons of Israel,”
Declares the Lord of hosts.

From Moab, Isaiah steers his prophecy making northward to Damascus, which was (and is) the capital of Aram--or, today, Syria. "Its location NE of Mt. Hermon on the main land route between Mesopotamia and Egypt made it very influential," according to my study Bible. Of course, this week, Syria is the epicenter of world events.

In reviewing the cross-references for our verses this week, I was pleased to have a history refresher and a re-visit to earlier chapters in Isaiah. [In a very long book such as this, a periodic review is helpful in remembering what you have already (supposedly) covered!] This history helps to set up this chapter. 

Since Isaiah's calling to be a prophet, Judah's kings had had to deal with the brewing situation of a power alliance between Syria and northern neighbor Israel. Both nations had banded together with the hope of thwarting takeover threats by Assyria. The countries believed that having Judah on board with them would secure victory. Problem was that Judah's kings would not play ball. So, the two-nation alliance threatened to invade Judah to forcibly bring about their own triune. Recall King Ahaz--King Panic and not one to follow Godly counsel--who disregarded Isaiah's prophecy:

"...Thus says the Lord God: 'It shall not stand nor shall it come to pass. For the head of Aram is Damascus and the head of Damascus is Rezin (now within another 65 years Ephraim will be shattered, so that it is no longer a people)....'"
--Isaiah 7: 7 and 8 

Rather than listen to God, Ahaz did his own force play, aligning Judah with Assyria.
Isaiah steps in now, during King Hezekiah's reign, saying that "Damascus is about to be removed from being a city...." (vs. 1) Even before the prophet forthtold its demise, Amos, the sheep-herder prophet to Israel, had already prophesied its fall:
"Thus says the Lord, 
'For three transgressions of Damascus and for four
I will not revoke its punishment,
Because they threshed Gilead with implements of sharp iron.

'So I will send fire upon the house of Hazael
And it will consume the citadels of Ben-hadad.

'I will also break the gate bar of Damascus,
And cut off the inhabitant from the valley of Aven,
And him who holds the scepter, from Beth-eden;
So the people of Aram will go exiled to Kir,'
Says the Lord."

--Amos 1: 3-5
The word had been pronounced; it was just a matter of timing. Isaiah's bringing the same word, again, should have alerted people that the time was yet nearer. Damascus would not just face destruction, but would become "a fallen ruin." (The King James' Version uses "ruinous heap.")

In verse 2, not only Damascus will suffer, but also the cities of the areas of Aroer would be "forsaken." 
Aroer was the area on Syria's southernmost border, on the Arnon River--just north of Moab's northernmost border. (You can see Jazer and Elealah on the map.) So, we have an appreciation through the text that Isaiah is referring to the larger physical boundaries of Syria and not just the heart of these cities. At one time, Aroer was under possession of Gad, one of the tribes of Israel, who moved into the area seeking to establish a place to raise  families--especially  children--and livestock, of which they were rich in number. (Numbers 32)
Given why Gad sought to stay put in the region sheds light on the rest of verse 2: "They will be for flocks to lie down in, and there will be no one to frighten them." The pastoral land of Aroer will continue to host livestock, only there will be no people, or reason to flee--as all will be gone.
Damascus will lose its "sovereignty" among other nations (vs. 3), meaning that any power it once held would be taken. We've already read that Rezin's kingly term came with a terminal limit. Damascus held the reigns in instigating the alliance with Israel, for which it would face God's wrath and judgment. If there were any inkling of a thought that Ephraim's (Israel's) "friend of God" status would keep Damascus' toll to a minimum, Isaiah says no way: These cities will be "like the glory of the sons of Israel." (vs. 3)
On the surface, you would think that was a good thing. Of course, at one time, it was the best thing! Israel had had a reputation. Israel had a history. Israel had The Glory! But Israel's sin--worshiping idols and the lack of full reliance on God--tarnished the picture of His Glory resting upon His people. Long gone, and it would also seem long forgotten, were the days when the physical presence of the Glory of God (Shekinah) was with His people. As we said in last week's post about the mighty days of Moab, the glory was fading, and judgment was coming--for Israel and for Syria.

"'The remnant of Syria shall be as the glory of the children of Israel; those few that remain of the Syrians shall be in as mean and despicable a condition as the children of Israel are, and the glory of Israel shall be no relief or reputation to them.' Sinful confederacies will be no strength, no stay, to the confederates, when God’s judgments come upon them."
--Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible


As with Moab, a similarly sized remnant will be found in Syria, also. ...'Til next Wednesday!

* * *

Next week:  Isaiah 17: 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).

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Isaiah 16: 10-14

10 Gladness and joy are taken away from the fruitful field;
In the vineyards also there will be no cries of joy or jubilant shouting,
No treader treads out wine in the presses,
For I have made the shouting to cease.
11 Therefore my heart intones like a harp for Moab
And my inward feelings for Kir-hareseth.
12 So it will come about when Moab presents himself,
When he wearies himself upon his high place
And comes to his sanctuary to pray,
That he will not prevail.
13 This is the word which the Lord spoke earlier concerning Moab.
14 But now the Lord speaks, saying, “Within three years, as a hired man would count them, the glory of Moab will be degraded along with all his great population, and his remnant will be very small and impotent.”

Closing out Isaiah Chapter 16 today. Take note of the prophet's deep compassion (vs. 11), as well as the unveiling of God's words of action and His timing (vs. 14). Character-revealing passage!

Verse 10 finishes the thoughts of last week, as we recall Moab's devastation depicted through the loss of its vineyards and grape harvest--a chief industry and source of pride for the nation. What should have been a time of rejoicing has become a time of mourning. Shouts of joy turned into wails of lamentation.

“There is wailing in all the plazas,
And in all the streets they say, 'Alas! Alas!'
They also call the farmer to mourning
And professional mourners to lamentation.
'And in all the vineyards there is wailing,
Because I will pass through the midst of you,' says the Lord.
--Amos 5: 16 and 17 
(Remember, Amos prophesied to Israel before Assyria destroyed it)

"I have made the shouting to cease," God says at the end of verse 10. Interesting in both this verse and verse 17 of the Amos passage that the prophets' words contain that 'I', reminding the hearers of Whom is in control. It is not the passing of a poor season and its consequences, but God Almighty who passes through, wielding justice and judgment at His hand. Had the nation faith in the Lord, the outcome of its judgment and its response to its circumstances might have looked quite different.

"'But a gracious soul can rejoice in the Lord as the God of its salvation even when the fig-tree does not blossom and there is no fruit in the vine,' Hab. 3:17, 18. In God therefore let us always rejoice with a holy triumph, and in other things let us always rejoice with a holy trembling, rejoice as though we rejoiced not."
--Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible

The prophet's heart--and God's, too--"intones like a harp for Moab" (vs. 12) Although we would commonly use 'heart', in the language of the day, one might have used 'entrails' to refer to the place of one's deep inner being. As the strings of a harp are plucked, they vibrate, resonating tones. Poetically, Isaiah trembles and quivers in his innermost places over the loss and coming grief to face Moab. The New Testament cross-reference verse adds a dynamic spin:

"Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion...."
--Philippians 2: 1

Talk about a man of character! Though he was given a Godly charge and the words of the Almighty to say, Isaiah never lorded over his hearers that he was in any way above anyone else. Sure, Moab had been an enemy to God's people and the truth he relayed through his prophesies spelled out a future of judgment. But at his core, Isaiah offered his fellowship as another man, as a brother of earthly brothers. He let his compassion rule--what Jesus would do if he were on the scene at the time. [And that's only one verse of Philippians in a chapter that is extremely convicting!] It's this kind of revelation that inspires me, as I see how God works in the minds and hearts of those He calls.

This judgment that we have read about in these two chapters shall come to Moab in a time when the nation "wearies himself upon his high place." When a nation is in trouble, it turns to its higher powers for guidance. [Alas, who is that higher power?] In this case, Moab turns to its national god, Chemosh (pictured above) for direction. The people will literally tire themselves in their prayers and sacrifice, seeking answers. Yet, there is no reward, gain or knowledge in their devotion, for the One who makes the "shouting to cease" controls the destinies of all. He (Chemosh) "will not prevail." (vs. 12)

Moab will not prevail as the self-gloried nation it was either. Here is where God drops some specifics of timing, which is, generally, rare in prophecy. In verse 13, Isaiah qualifies that God has known this was the judgment to come to Moab since the earliest days of its excessive pride. God would not let that stand, yet, He did not immediately execute a sentence upon the nation. How often is this the case, even today? But how many prophesies have been brought to fulfillment? The truth is clear, as we have already seen in our reading! Do we trust God to be true to His Word?

"BUT...," verse 14 (caps mine), "now the Lord speaks, saying, "Within three years...." A timetable has been given! As surely as Isaiah spoke the words, there would be three years--a contract length for which a servant might be hired--before Moab would be invaded. In 715 B.C., King Sargon of Assyria took over the country.

Bruce Springsteen said the glory days will "pass you the wink of a young girl's eye." Sure thing. Moab would be reduced to a "remnant" of migrants (vs. 14), which, though a better fate than Babylon, was not something of which to boast. No more chants of "We are the Moabites--the mighty, mighty Moabites!" Might would not prevail either, not under the will of God.

So why did God give Moab a three-year timeframe? Given what we have read over these two chapters about Isaiah's heart, and the Lord's heart, suggests that there might have been room offered for a change of Moab's heart. We mentioned earlier in the study of Chapter 15 that this was Ruth's home country. Might there have been others of her character that God would shape and mold to be His followers? There are times in Scripture when judgments are withheld for a time (as was the case with Nineveh in the wake of Jonah's prophecy there).

But, even as I ponder this, I am reminded by Matthew Henry that God's gift of timing is solely His, and what He chooses to reveal and when are also His. In facilitating a class on Revelation, I had more questions (and no answers) than I knew what to do with regarding when a judgment was supposed to happen. It is human curiosity to question, but not for us to obsess over or for which to demand answers. But, when God does reveal something, it is, indeed, noteworthy:

"It is not for us to know, or covet to know, the times and the seasons, any further than God has thought fit to make them known, and so far we may and must take notice of them. See how God makes known his mind by degrees; the light of divine revelation shone more and more, and so does the light of divine grace in the heart."
--Matthew Henry

It is sad for the prophet to reveal the light of divine grace only to see that light doused out by the pride of man. There's a lesson for everyone in that!

Prophecy about Damascus (of its 732 B.C. destruction, lest you think we're dealing with current events. But, who am I to talk about timing!). ...'Til next Wednesday!

* * *

Next week:  Isaiah 17: 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).