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).