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!

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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).