Thursday, January 30, 2014

Isaiah 21: 6-10

For thus the Lord says to me,
“Go, station the lookout, let him report what he sees.
“When he sees riders, horsemen in pairs,
A train of donkeys, a train of camels,
Let him pay close attention, very close attention.”
Then the lookout called,
“O Lord, I stand continually by day on the watchtower,
And I am stationed every night at my guard post.
“Now behold, here comes a troop of riders, horsemen in pairs.”
And one said, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon;
And all the images of her gods are shattered on the ground.”
10 O my threshed people, and my
afflicted of the threshing floor!
What I have heard from the Lord of hosts,
The God of Israel, I make known to you.

We draw conclusion to another prophecy concerning Babylon with our passage today, though Chapter 21 of Isaiah has more in store for us. It's not the last time we'll hear about Babylon over the course of Isaiah, and this prophecy in particular may resonate with you if you have studied Revelation.

Last week, we had a preview into the fulfillment of a prophecy that came about in Daniel's time with the death of Belshazzar. The cry came to "oil the shields," (vs. 5) and now God tells Isaiah to "station the lookout." (vs. 6) The one placed in a watchtower, near the king's palace, had much the same job as Paul Revere's men in the light towers in Revolutionary War times: observing the situation with the enemy and reporting back. But instead of "one if by land, two if by sea," God said the watchman should look for twos and groupings of certain animals.

"He then saw another chariot drawn by asses or mules, which were much in use among the Persians, and a chariot drawn by camels, which were likewise much in use among the Medes; so that...these two chariots signify the two nations combined against Babylon, or rather these chariots come to bring tidings to the palace."
--Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible

We don't know how long the watchman was in the tower literally, but that it was day and night (vs. 8). We can gain from this that the man was vigilant in his responsibilities of observation, expecting that there would be the sign the Lord indicated. Then, in verse 9, "Behold...," just as the Lord had said. There is a bigger picture in this description--for the prophecy in its time and for us. In its time, through Isaiah's speaking, the prophecy to Judah should have provided them with reassurance. Yes, Babylon pressures and threatens you, but My plan is to ultimately overcome them.

"...And, before it [Babylon] arrived at that pitch of eminency which it was at in Nebuchadnezzar’s time, God by this prophet plainly foretold its fall, again and again, that his people might not be terrified at its rise, nor despair of relief in due time when they were its prisoners...."
--Matthew Henry

If we believe the Word and promises of Scripture, do we let the Holy Spirit act as our man in the watchtower, calling our attention to act or to wait longer or to rest in the knowledge that things as they exist now are how they should be? Do we trust in the Spirit to be on-call, day and night, and to report to us?

Finishing verse 9, which may be familiar to some of you: "Fallen, fallen is Babylon...." The vision from the tower is now quite defined. "Babylon, the beauty of kingdoms, and glory of the Chaldeans' pride, will be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah." (Isa. 13:19) Indeed, Babylon fell to the Persians and Medes in 539 B.C.--the second defeat at the hands of a significant empire. (Babylon was defeated by the Assyrians in 689 B.C.) 

Today, Babylon is located in Iraq. It is a pile of archeological rubble and not a true city. Saddam Hussein actually tried to reconstruct Babylon to its former glory days, but he didn't get very far. But it doesn't mean that Babylon of old doesn't exist. The ideologies of this nation may seem of history, yet you will still find them in our daily headline news. No, this will not be the last time "Babylon" is defeated, as the cry of the watchman is heard through John's Revelation:

"And another angel, a second one, followed, saying, 'Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who has made all the nations drink of the wine of the passion of her immorality....' And he cried out with a mighty voice, saying, 'Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place of demons and a prison of every unclean spirit, and a prison of every unclean and hateful bird.'"
--Revelation 14:8 and 18:2

Not only does the city fall, but her idols are gone. More literally, the end of verse 9 translates, "He has shattered them to the earth." This is part of the fulfillment of this prophecy that is yet to come. There are still nations imbibing the wine of the passion of Babylon's immorality, which includes the worship of idols, the following of false teachings, living with "every unclean spirit," you-name-it, whatever....

Look to the Holy Spirit--the watchman over your lives!

Verse 10 in the King James Version reads as follows: "O my threshing, and the corn of my floor!" Isaiah is speaking to Judah here and the reference is a difficult one. Threshing is the process of separating out the grain from the rest of the plant or seed pod. If you remember the story of Ruth and Boaz, you learn a great deal about the process of grain harvesting. Isaiah says this to Judah as God speaking love to His people: You will be threshed--at the hands of Babylon, Persia, Rome, etc.--but you are the corn of My floor! What remains on the floor is that which has been culled and refined under the care of God the Father. What remains on the floor is His to keep.

"What I have heard from the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, I make known to you."

The prophecy concerning Edom.  ...'Til next Wednesday!


* * *

Next week:  Isaiah 21: 11 and 12
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).

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Isaiah 21: 1-5

God Commands That Babylon Be Taken

1 The oracle concerning the wilderness of the sea.
As windstorms in the Negev sweep on,
It comes from the wilderness, from a terrifying land.
A harsh vision has been shown to me;
The treacherous one still deals treacherously, and the destroyer still destroys.
Go up, Elam, lay siege, Media;
I have made an end of all the groaning she has caused.
For this reason my loins are full of anguish;
Pains have seized me like the pains of a woman in labor.
I am so bewildered I cannot hear, so terrified I cannot see.
My mind reels, horror overwhelms me;
The twilight I longed for has been turned for me into trembling.
They set the table, they spread out the cloth, they eat, they drink;
“Rise up, captains, oil the shields,”

It was not long ago that we read prophecies concerning Babylon in Isaiah. We can read back through Chapters 13 and 14 for more details. We will take another look at this powerful nation, as God has revealed more words to the prophet concerning its fate in Chapter 21.

Isaiah opens this word, calling on Babylon as "the wilderness of the sea." (vs. 1) More literally, the words are translated "sandy waters" or "sea country." He is referring to an area of southern Babylon near the Persian Gulf--where the Tigris and Euphrates empty themselves. The Reformation Study Bible is a bit more direct in its definition: "This is probably a sarcastic parody. Babylon’s southern region on the Persian Gulf, known as 'Land of the Sea,' will become a wilderness or as good as a wilderness to anyone looking for salvation from there." From our reading in Chapters 13 and 14, we can recall that Babylon will be devastated by the release of water, previously dammed up, through the city, leaving it a wasteland.

An easterly wind sweeping across the Negev is a picture of trouble. The Negev is located in what we now call the Sinai Peninsula. Per the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, it means "to be dry," or "desert." East winds in the Bible are notorious for being signs of plagues (Exodus 10), drought (Genesis 41), ill will (Job 15), and damage (Psalm 48). Hot desert winds blowing east represent the danger and speed of the enemy that will sweep an unsuspecting Babylon off its feet.

The vision is "harsh," according to Isaiah, in verse 2, describing the rise of the Elamites and the Medes as part of the Persian army, which will take over Babylon. God will raise up these nations, who have been enemies of Babylon at other times, to continue the use of treachery and cunning Babylon had regularly used, to bring an end to the once-shining nation.

"The Persians shall pay the Babylonians in their own coin; those that by fraud and violence, cheating and plundering, unrighteous wars and deceitful treaties, have made a prey of their neighbours, shall meet with their match, and by the same methods shall themselves be made a prey of."

--Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible 

That Isaiah makes a point of labeling the vision as 'harsh' is the beginning of his sharing the burden of his heart through the burden placed on him by God. Note some of the phrases in verse 3: "my loins are full of anguish," "pains of a woman in labor," "bewildered," "terrified," and into verse 4: "horror" and "trembling." What the prophet has been made privy to obviously has him in an awful state, both physically and emotionally, and he shares it all. Isaiah has already given us this view back in Chapter 13 from the perspective of what Babylon will face:

"They will be terrified,
Pains and anguish will take hold of them;
They will writhe like a woman in labor,
They will look at one another in astonishment,
Their faces aflame."
--Isaiah 13:8

But here in Chapter 21, the view is so much more personal. As only a man with Isaiah's sense of compassion and obedience could do, he practically lives out the prophecy as he is telling it. If we weren't aware of his compassion ("Therefore my heart intones like a harp for Moab...."--Isaiah 16:11a) and hadn't witnessed his humble faithfulness in answering the call to be a prophet, we might write off these verses as dramatic prose from an ancient Greek tragedy. Isaiah has too much integrity to present himself a phony for the sake of others. (The prophet who went "naked and barefoot," remember....) It is a message he desperately wants to reach his people.

Verse 4 comes with cross-references and commentary that brought me to Daniel 5. I'm still thinking, wow, how did we get here? Daniel comes quite a bit after Isaiah in terms of timing. (Judah is in captivity then.) But, why is it impossible for God to have given Isaiah a vision that would be carried out in the presence of another prophet, who would have an active hand in its fulfillment? Look at verse 4 in the Amplified Bible:

"My mind reels and wanders, horror terrifies me. [In my mind’s eye I am at the feast of Belshazzar. I see the defilement of the golden vessels taken from God’s temple, I watch the handwriting appear on the wall—I know that Babylon’s great king is to be slain.] The twilight I looked forward to with pleasure has been turned into fear and trembling for me."

For Isaiah, seeing the then-Babylonian king making use of the Temple vessels for his luxurious feast might have been enough to send him over the edge. "Anguish" and "bewilderment" that the Temple was taken? Of course! If he actually did see words on the wall, knowing that there would be more bloodshed [and how much more might his vision show?] would have horrified him. As bad a view as this was for Babylon, what about for Judah? How much did Isaiah understand about where the people of Judah were in this time? If they were alive, how much more dangerous a predicament were they in? 

The Lord had spoken before of what happens to those who do not follow Him in obedience. This is the weightiness of the message that Isaiah bears to Judah:

"Among those nations you shall find no rest, and there will be no resting place for the sole of your foot; but there the Lord will give you a trembling heart, failing of eyes, and despair of soul. So your life shall hang in doubt before you; and you will be in dread night and day, and shall have no assurance of your life. In the morning you shall say, ‘Would that it were evening!’ And at evening you shall say, ‘Would that it were morning!’ because of the dread of your heart which you dread, and for the sight of your eyes which you will see."
--Deuteronomy 28: 65-67

Verse 5 could tack on to Belshazzar's feast--setting the table and such. I am partial to the King James Version translation on this one:

"Prepare the table, watch in the watchtower, eat, drink: arise, ye princes, and anoint the shield." 
--Verse 5, King James Version

Truly, it would be more of a command--especially given what was written on the wall that night in Babylon: "...Your kingdom has been divided and given over to the Medes and Persians." (Daniel 5:28) "Arise, ye princes," indeed! Easton's Bible Dictionary says that "shields were usually 'anointed' in order to preserve them, and at the same time make the missiles of the enemy glide off them more easily."

But, for Belshazzar and company, shields would be rendered useless, as God had anointed others to carry out His will against them.

More from the watchtower next week.  ...'Til next Wednesday!
* * *

Next week:  Isaiah 21: 6-10
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).

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Isaiah 20

Prophecy about Egypt and Ethiopia

1 In the year that the commander came to Ashdod, 
when Sargon the king of Assyria sent him 
and he fought against Ashdod and captured it,  
at that time the Lord spoke through Isaiah the son of Amoz, saying, 
“Go and loosen the sackcloth from your hips and take your shoes off your feet.” 
And he did so, going naked and barefoot.  
And the Lord said, “Even as My servant Isaiah has gone naked 
and barefoot three years as a sign and token against Egypt and Cush, 
so the king of Assyria will lead away the captives of Egypt 
and the exiles of Cush, young and old, 
naked and barefoot with buttocks uncovered, to the shame of Egypt.
Then they will be dismayed and ashamed 
because of Cush their hope and Egypt their boast. 
So the inhabitants of this coastland will say in that day, 
‘Behold, such is our hope, where we fled for help to be delivered 
from the king of Assyria; and we, how shall we escape?’”

In this short Chapter 20, and very clear (and fulfilled!) prophecy, we also see the unquestioned devotion that Isaiah the prophet had in serving God. There is a time-shift in this prophecy between the first two verses and the rest of the chapter. Isaiah has forthtold the word for three years, and, then, God explains the why of what Isaiah was doing in that time. The details of the prophecies that we have already read about Ethiopia and Egypt are not as defined, so this is a treat, of sorts.

Although this is a prophecy about Egypt and Ethiopia, or Cush, we need to remember that Isaiah was always a prophet to Judah. This message is for Judah as much as it is about those other nations. With verse 1, a timeframe is established, and we need some definitions as we move forward.

The city mentioned, Ashdod, is one of the largest Philistine cities. Philistia was a region located to the southwest of Judah, toward Egypt and Ethiopia. This verse contains the only mention by name of Sargon, the king of Assyria. There is some question among commentators as to which Sargon this refers (there were two) or if 'Sargon' doesn't in fact refer more generically to a king of Assyria. (Meaning, Sennacherib, the king we have mentioned often in posts here, might be the king referred to as Sargon in this passage.) Reading on in verse 1, Ashdod is taken by Assyria. History tells us that this indeed did happen in 711 B.C.

Recall that we have already looked at the reaction of Judah in response to the Assyrian presence. King Hezekiah's staff received a threatening visit from Assyrian commanders prior to their taking down Ashdod.

"Now behold, you rely on the staff of this crushed reed, even on Egypt; on which if a man leans, it will go into his hand and pierce it. So is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who rely on him."
--II Kings 18:21

The Assyrian commanders seemed to be presenting Godly counsel here in that Judah and Egypt were in an alliance. But the Assyrians did not have Godly intent in their hearts. We have come back to this passage in II Kings 18 quite often over the course of looking at these prophecies. Assyria wants to take Judah--however possible--but uses lies and taunts against Egypt and Ethiopia instead.

It is when Assyria moves into Ashdod that God moves in calling Isaiah to a new task. "Go...," He says to Isaiah, in verse 2, and, basically, change your outfit. God tells Isaiah to remove his sackcloth, which is a garment worn by mourners, but may indicate, simply, the uniform of a prophet. This is coming off along with any additional outer garments worn by Isaiah (though he likely would have kept on a basic inner garment, or loin cloth) and his shoes. He was now considered "naked and barefoot." God not only hands Isaiah the tough word about the impending trouble for Egypt and Ethiopia, but He tells Isaiah to live out the news through his wardrobe.

Wearing sackcloth in mourning and out of compassion was already not an easy task. Releasing the outer garments and removing sandals from feet already prone to too much dirt does not land one on the pages of Cosmopolitan Prophet. God wanted Isaiah to fully and completely demonstrate for Judah--as a physical, visible sign--the degree of humiliation and disgrace Egypt and Ethiopia would be brought at the hands of the Assyrians. The Reformation Study Bible suggests that his clothing was to resemble that of the captive going into exile. This is a picture of shame and devastation, for the "young and old." (vs. 4) Egypt, go down in defeat? Exiled to Assyria? It wasn't an option in the minds of those nations (nor in Judah's). But could you ignore the sign? [Sadly, yes. We know the outcome here, too....]
"Three years as a sign and token," God says of Isaiah's getup and ministry. There is also question of interpretation here. Was Isaiah "naked and barefoot" for all three years? That is one interpretation. Another might be that although he did dress that way for a time that it wasn't until three years following this period that people recognized to what the sign referred. Regardless, to me, it meant Isaiah really went the distance for God in trying to get His message to His people. What's the equivalent of being "naked and barefoot" today? If God called you to that, would you go? That's what we have to ask ourselves in the midst of this.
"This was a great hardship upon the prophet; it was a blemish to his reputation, and would expose him to contempt and ridicule; the boys in the streets would hoot at him, and those who sought occasion against him would say, The prophet is indeed a fool, and the spiritual man is mad, Hos. 9:7. It might likewise be a prejudice to his health; he was in danger of catching a cold, which might throw him into a fever, and cost him his life; but God bade him do it, that he might give a proof of his obedience to God in a most difficult command, and so shame the disobedience of his people to the most easy and reasonable precepts."
--Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible

"...'Behold, such is our hope....'" says the "inhabitants of this coastland," or Judah, in verse 5. Her strong, trusted allies are to be hauled off into captivity. The Amplified Bible puts verse 5 this way: "And they shall be dismayed and confounded because of Ethiopia their hope and expectation and Egypt their glory and boast." It is here that we see Judah's fatal error in her alliance with foreign nations. What looks good on paper doesn't always measure up, much less hold a candle, to having a plan from and relationship with Almighty God.

"Thus says the Lord, 'Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,' declares the Lord."
--Jeremiah 9: 23 and 24

Judah had not understood. Indeed, Esarhaddon, who became king of Assyria after Sargon II and Sennacherib, fulfilled this prophecy in 671, taking captives from Egypt and Ethiopia. "...How shall we escape?" Judah asks, in verse 6. Perhaps if Judah had had the revelation the church of Ephesus had received: "But I have this against you, that you have left your first love." (Revelation 2:4) Judah needed an alliance with and an allegiance to God.

"For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will."
--Hebrews 2: 1-4 (emphasis mine)

God had testified to His people--through signs and wonders--that His love for them was real and true, and that He was the strong One who would lead His people to salvation. But His people would remain wanting....

Stand up, stand up for Jesus, 
Stand in his strength alone;
The arm of flesh will fail you, 
Ye dare not trust your own.
Put on the gospel armor, 
Each piece put on with prayer;
Where duty calls or danger, 
Be never wanting there.
--"Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus," lyrics by George Duffield, Jr.   

God has more words for Babylon. Chapter 21 begins next week.  ...'Til next Wednesday!


* * *

Next week:  Isaiah 21: 1-5
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).

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Isaiah 19: 23-25

23 In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria, 
and the Assyrians will come into Egypt and the Egyptians into Assyria, 
and the Egyptians will worship with the Assyrians.
24 In that day Israel will be the third party with Egypt and Assyria, 
a blessing in the midst of the earth,  
25 whom the Lord of hosts has blessed, saying, 
“Blessed is Egypt My people, and Assyria the work of My hands, 
and Israel My inheritance.”

Hello! Happy New Year!

I think I have finally come to the full understanding that scheduling this blog to run through the Advent season is CRAZY! The opportunities I have for worship, service and fellowship are so numerous in December, because of the uniqueness of the season (and me, being a seasonal musician). It leaves very little time for quality study or writing. If you catch me scheduling blog posts for mid- to late-December in 2014, call me on it. It's not going to happen! Celebrating Jesus' coming (again and again) is always going to take precedence. Thanks for your patience as I get back to it....

It is too bad that I didn't finish off Isaiah Chapter 19 before Christmas, though. It would have made starting Chapter 20 in the New Year more appropriate. Alas to that, yet this is a wonderfully hope-filled passage with which to ring in 2014.

Take a look back on the posts from Chapter 19. Recall that we are talking about Egypt. God has outlined a period of great difficulty in His discipline of the nation. As we reach these last verses, we see the tremendously encouraging news that there is a new hope promised for Egypt--"in that day." (vs. 1) When Christ comes to reign, the world is going to be a very different place--the hope to carry all of us through this year ahead.

Isaiah 11:16 carries a similar promise for Egypt as Isaiah 19:23 carries for Assyria:

"And there will be a highway from Assyria
For the remnant of His people who will be left,
Just as there was for Israel
In the day that they came up out of the land of Egypt."

--Isaiah 11:16 

That highway from Assyria is going to provide passage all the way to Egypt, with Israel in the middle as "rest stop" of sorts, to play out the metaphor. Back in the day when Isaiah shared this, I'm sure the response would have been something like "Blasphemy!" Two powerhouse nations--nations, at various points in history, aligned with Israel--will now be joined together with Israel as "the third party." (vs. 24) Surely, that seemed a ludicrous proposition. It's times like this when you get a glimpse at the burden these prophets had to bear--both in the news itself and in being the messenger. "Don't be a hater," Isaiah might have said. (Though Isaiah had too much compassion in his heart to have given that a thought much less an utterance.)

In his commentary for this passage, Matthew Henry mentions one of my oft-quoted verses of Scripture: Ecclesiastes 4:13--"A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart." Thus will be the case in seeing these three nations standing together as one. The verse before this one is equally significant in looking at the history of these parties: "And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him." (Ecclesiastes 4:12) We have seen the wisdom of Israel's kings (not so much) in the alliances formed between the country and each of these nations. The alliances did not always last. They were alliances of convenience, formed out of a lack of complete trust in God. The wisdom of Solomon makes sense, but the choice of an unbelieving nation for an ally rather than God the Father Almighty suggests that the kings didn't really get what their predecessor was trying to say.

But all of history will truly be bygone in the time of the ultimate fulfillment of this prophecy. Israel will finally be the "blessing in the midst of the earth" (vs. 24) that God intended her to be:

"And I will bless those who bless you,
And the one who curses you I will curse.

And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”
--Genesis 12:3

In verse 25, Isaiah uses some incredible phrases to describe Egypt and Assyria-- "My people" and "the work of My hands." Phrases reserved for His "inheritance"--Israel--are now being applied to the enemies of Israel. Remember, too, that these were Pagan, Gentile nations. But what seems an impossibility is, of course, not such a thing in the face of Jesus. That's why He came! And we cannot look at those who are not yet Christians as those who will never be Christians. Christ was the promised Messiah--for the Jews and the Gentiles. All who believe in Him become part of His inheritance. When He comes to reign, Israel becomes the nation that draws all others to Him--even Egypt. Even Assyria. Even....

"I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd."
--John 10: 14-16 (Jesus speaking; emphasis mine)

"For nothing will be impossible with God." (Luke 1:37) As Israel has received opportunities for forgiveness in not following her God, out of that same grace, Egypt will also receive. The status quo is not the status quo forever, as God's plans are not our own.

As we enter a new year, do we wish the status quo to still be the status quo? Even if we do, do we consider that some of the things that we haven't been able to change in the past could be changed? Do we believe that God's impact in and through our lives could be, indeed, life-changing for us or others? If Egypt and Assyria will know these things, how much more might we, today, trust in the Lord to provide His grace in our relationships and in our doings?
"It becomes those who have communion with the same God, through the same Mediator, to keep up an amicable correspondence with one another. The consideration of our meeting at the same throne of grace, and our serving with each other in the same business of religion, should put an end to all heats and animosities, and knit our hearts to each other in holy love."
--Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible

Words for Egypt and Ethiopia, as we open (and close!) the short Chapter 20.  ...'Til next Wednesday!

* * *

Next week:  Isaiah 20
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).