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 However, over the course of the history of that covenant, God has shown favor but He has also withdrawn His favor in the form of tough love.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).