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).