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!


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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).