Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Isaiah 17: 10 and 11

10 For you have forgotten the God of your salvation
And have not remembered the rock of your refuge.
Therefore you plant delightful plants
And set them with vine slips of a strange god.
11 In the day that you plant it you carefully fence it in,
And in the morning you bring your seed to blossom;
But the harvest will be a heap
In a day of sickliness and incurable pain.

Only two verses today? Yes, only two verses from Isaiah 17, but they have such deep roots--can't stay away from the pun--that they're worth exploring in depth. Plus, the Bible is full of gardening metaphors, and Isaiah has a strong one going. But, before we delve into that, he gets us to the crux of the matter and the whole chapter:

"For you have forgotten the God of your salvation
And have not remembered the rock of your refuge."

--vs. 10

Isaiah might have slipped an "O, Israel" in there after the 'you', or an "O, Jacob" or an "O, Jeshurun." It is no wonder Deuteronomy 32 appears in the cross-references. How about an "O, that My People would remember the song of My servant, Moses"?

"'But Jeshurun [Israel] grew fat and kicked—
You are grown fat, thick, and sleek—

Then he forsook God who made him,
And scorned the Rock of his salvation.

They made Him jealous with strange gods;
With abominations they provoked Him to anger.
They sacrificed to demons who were not God,
To gods whom they have not known,
New gods who came lately,
Whom your fathers did not dread.

You neglected the Rock who begot you,
And forgot the God who gave you birth....'"
--Deuteronomy 32: 15-18

The prophesy that Isaiah was laying down was one that Israel had already seen fulfilled in its history, and would now see again. "'The Rock! His work is perfect...," Moses' song sings in verse 4, yet the people had given themselves over to using rock for making altars and carving rock to making other gods. The God who was mighty to save them from their slavery in Egypt, who granted them the Law, and extended His grace time and again, was exhausted from their bodies, not exalted from their hearts.
"I will call upon the Lord who is worthy to be praised
So shall I be saved from my enemies.

The Lord liveth and blessed be the Rock
And let the God of my salvation be exalted...."
--Lyrics from "I Will Call Upon the Lord" by Petra

No, they would not be protected from their enemies, save but a remnant. For though the Lord liveth, He demandeth obedience. He needed to show His people, again, that He and He alone was the Lord, the God of Israel:

"'How could one chase a thousand,
And two put ten thousand to flight,
Unless their Rock had sold them,
And the Lord had given them up?....'"

--Deuteronomy 32:30

Therefore, because of their state of perpetual, purposeful forgetfulness, the people go their own way and "plant delightful plants." (Isaiah 17: 10) On the surface, besides, seemingly, being a non sequitur, planting plants doesn't sound like sinful behavior. Make sure you read the full sentence--"...and set them with vine slips of a strange god."

'Vine slips' refers to taking a cutting from a plant in order to cause it to grow roots, thus making a new plant. (See picture above) Again, in and of itself, not a bad thing. (Some basil cuttings you buy from the farmstand or nursery will sprout easily in a kitchen window.) But the visual Isaiah creates is one that puts such slips with those from "a strange god." There is the God that Israel calls 'Lord, Lord' and the one (or more) that Israel serves as lord. The two will not grow together in the same pot.

In a side note, the Encyclopedia of the Bible suggests that the plants mentioned here may refer to Adonis gardens. Adonis was the "Syrian deity of vegetation which wilts under the hot summer sun." Apparently, people would plant herbs in special gardens in honor of Adonis, only to see them wilt and die in the summer. Adonis, being a fertility god, would go through a symbolic death. His wife, the goddess Ishtar, would restore him each spring, thus renewing the cycle of life.

Regardless of which plants or which gods, that Israel took such great pains to care for its "plants"--with its fencing them in and forcing of their roots and seeds to flourish (vs. 11)--demonstrated that its interests were not with the Creator who made the plants in the first place. Jesus makes this abundantly clear in His presentation of how vines grow successfully:

"'I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing....'"
--John 15: 1-5

In this regard, a "branch" in the presence of another "vine" would also bear nothing. Isaiah brings today's passage to a close with the same thought: "...the harvest will be a heap...." (vs. 11)

"You have plowed wickedness, you have reaped injustice,
You have eaten the fruit of lies.
Because you have trusted in your way, in your numerous warriors,

Therefore a tumult will arise among your people,
And all your fortresses will be destroyed...."

--Hosea 10: 13 and 14a

There is nothing that feels quite as bad as continuing to make the same mistake over and over and over again. The pain is exquisite. Yet, even with Isaiah giving warning and the servant of His people having already given them a life song to sing and remember their history by, Israel will reap a heap.
"'For they are a nation lacking in counsel,
And there is no understanding in them.

Would that they were wise, that they understood this,
That they would discern their future!....'"
--Deuteronomy 32: 28 and 29

Finishing up Chapter 17. ...'Til next Wednesday!

* * *

Next week:  Isaiah 17: 12-14
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).