Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Isaiah 22: 12-14

12 Therefore in that day the Lord God of hosts called you to weeping, to wailing,
To shaving the head and to wearing sackcloth.
13 Instead, there is gaiety and gladness,
Killing of cattle and slaughtering of sheep,
Eating of meat and drinking of wine:
“Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we may die.”
14 But the Lord of hosts revealed Himself to me,
“Surely this iniquity shall not be forgiven you
Until you die,” says the Lord God of hosts.

Are you like me--Do you screen out more calls than you take? Do you stare at your caller ID, asking why the same "unknown" folks continue to call day after day (and often more frequently)? If "the Lord God of hosts" came up on your display, how would you respond?

When you read prophecy, often knowing how history unfolded and how prophecy was fulfilled, it is so frustrating and sometimes unbelievable to read how people could have mindlessly ignored a message that was specifically given to them. Yet, when you fully take in this "vision" that Isaiah is relating to Jerusalem, and you think about society today--with its emphasis on personal pleasures and self-sufficiency in an environment of selective communication--are we all that far away from the prophet's word? Time for another reality check!

Verse 12 of Chapter 22 sums up the message left to Jerusalem by God: "This is a call to repentance, My people!" There should be deep, inward grieving over the continued display of sinfulness, culminating with a lack of recognition of God as their authority in life. I've spoken here several times about King Hezekiah, who truly tried to reform his country. In the good-king/bad-king kingdom that was Jerusalem in those days, he really was one of the good ones. He modeled for the people not only by restoring God in the places of worship, but by demonstrating active faithfulness to Him through his political decisions in running the country and in his personal response to dealing with those tough situations. He was the one who tore his clothes and sought God in prayer as things around Jerusalem began to disintegrate. But earthly leaders, even with their Godly intentions and actions, cannot sway the mindset of an entire nation, much less change the plans of God.

"...And all this to lament their sins (by which they had brought those judgments upon their land), to enforce their prayers (by which they might hope to avert the judgments that were breaking in), and to dispose themselves to a reformation of their lives by a holy seriousness and a tenderness of heart under the word of God."
--Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible

So, we have verse 13, in which we see that not only have the people disregarded the word of their king and their Lord, but they have opted to go full-throttle on the prodigal way.

"And just as it happened in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man: they were eating, they were drinking, they were marrying, they were being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. It was the same as happened in the days of Lot: they were eating, they were drinking, they were buying, they were selling, they were planting, they were building; but on the day that Lot went out from Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all."
--Luke 17: 26-29

You could add on to Jesus' examples here: It also happened in the days of Hezekiah--they were eating, they were drinking, they were doing everything that made them happy, even with the charioteers of Assyria fixed at their gates. But, in the days of Nebuchadnezzar, the sons of Jerusalem would call Babylon home.

"But what do you do? You throw a party!
    Eating and drinking and dancing in the streets!
You barbecue bulls and sheep, and throw a huge feast—
    slabs of meat, kegs of beer. 

'Seize the day! Eat and drink!
    Tomorrow we die!'"

--Verse 13 from The Message

It seems crazy to us when we read how Jerusalem responded. We're watching that movie, and we know the killer is hiding behind the door, but the victim is completely oblivious. Truly, not just oblivious, but frivolously saying, "Whatever.... Not going to happen to me, but if it does, I'm going out with a bang." Does it register yet how ridiculously angry God must have been? Biblical commentator Matthew Henry said, "It is a sin against the remedy." God could save them. God would save them. But rather than admit that there was a problem at their gates--and an even bigger one in their hearts--Jerusalem says, "More sheep ribs, please. Extra sauce!"

"Rejoice, young man, during your childhood, and let your heart be pleasant during the days of young manhood. And follow the impulses of your heart and the desires of your eyes. Yet know that God will bring you to judgment for all these things."
--Ecclesiastes 11:9

"Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we may die." (vs. 13) What originated with Isaiah would be passed down over generations. Paul would use this quote in writing the Corinthians, admonishing them as some in the church had misrepresented and confounded the teaching of Jesus' resurrection from the dead:

"If from human motives I fought with wild beasts at Ephesus, what does it profit me? If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die. Do not be deceived: 'Bad company corrupts good morals.' Become sober-minded as you ought, and stop sinning; for some have no knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame."
--I Corinthians 15: 32-34

To me, this reads so much like Isaiah's situation in his day. If I stand here naked among you, prophesying God's word, what does it profit unless you heed what God is saying through me? If God has not brought His people to this place, building His city, establishing His principles by which to prosper His people, then let's party, 'cause what difference does it make? Become sober-minded as you ought, and stop sinning. Isaiah was saying exactly what Paul said. "For some have no knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame." YIKES! Jerusalem didn't get this. 2014 Christians, do we get this??

How personal was this message to Isaiah? He goes so far as to tell us that "the Lord of hosts revealed Himself to me...." (vs. 14) In studying up on these words, this was not a visual revealing but a speaking directly to Isaiah. In other words, Isaiah heard this from God literally in his ear! This apostasy, this sin, that is on full display before the Lord "shall not be forgiven"; "will not be atoned for" (New International Version); "shall not be purged" (King James Version), until.... The 'your' in closing part of the verse is related not to Jerusalem but to Isaiah. Atonement will not be granted until after Isaiah has passed away.

At this, I, being Isaiah, would have thought instantly back to the day of my commissioning as a prophet. God calls Isaiah, and he answers. He is ready to, “Go, and tell this people" (Isa. 6: 9) of whatever God desires him. "Lord, how long?" the prophet asks. (Isa. 6:11)

"Until cities are devastated and without inhabitant,
Houses are without people
And the land is utterly desolate,

The Lord has removed men far away,
And the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land."

--Isaiah 6: 11 and 12

Isaiah would not live to see the day Jerusalem was carried off by Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians.

"'In your filthiness is lewdness.
Because I would have cleansed you,
Yet you are not clean,
You will not be cleansed from your filthiness again
Until I have spent My wrath on you.'"

--Ezekiel 24:13 (just before Babylon decimated Jerusalem)

And what if Isaiah had not answered the call of the Lord God of hosts? What if he had written off his vision as a spectacle? Just a dream? A misplaced phone call?

Who is calling you today? What message are you hearing?

"It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God." (Hebrews 10:31) We'll read what happens to the "prime minister" of Jerusalem at the hands of God. ....'Til next week!

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Next week:  Isaiah 22: 15-18
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, March 20, 2014

Isaiah 22: 6-11

6 Elam took up the quiver
With the chariots, infantry and horsemen;
And Kir uncovered the shield.
Then your choicest valleys were full of chariots,
And the horsemen took up fixed positions at the gate.
And He removed the defense of Judah.
In that day you depended on the weapons of the house of the forest,
And you saw that the breaches
In the wall of the city of David were many;
And you collected the waters of the lower pool.
10 Then you counted the houses of Jerusalem
And tore down houses to fortify the wall.
11 And you made a reservoir between the two walls
For the waters of the old pool.
But you did not depend on Him who made it,
Nor did you take into consideration Him who planned it long ago.

I suspect your questions as to a time period for Isaiah's latest prophecy to Judah continue with our passage today. Though we can see references to Assyrian King Sennacherib's invasion of the country and threat to Jerusalem, we can also see references to Jerusalem's demise at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar. Let's keep reminding ourselves that, sometimes, God has multiple fulfillment of His word in mind. What we do receive in reading these verses is a continued look into the mindset of Jerusalem at this time.

With verse 6, we are re-introduced to Elam and Kir. We just looked at Elam in the last chapter of Isaiah, with the nation called to take on Babylon. ("The treacherous one still deals treacherously, and the destroyer still destroys. Go up, Elam, lay siege, Media...." (Isaiah 21:2) Kir is another country east of Babylon which became home to the exiles of Damascus after Assyria invaded it and put its king (Rezin) to death. (II Kings 16:9; also, Amos 1:5) The countries have been called to gear up their armies and armament; "chariots" and "horsemen" (vs. 7) to take up position "at the gate."

Jerusalem was crafted with great care--under David's and Solomon's leadership--with multiple named gates marking entryway into the city, and high walls to keep out the enemies. But, with armies of horsemen with artillery literally at the gates, "in fixed positions," that was a huge threat to the city, on top of Assyria's already threatening reputation.

"The fenced cities of Judah were a covering to the country; but these, being taken by the army of the Assyrians, ceased to be a shelter, so that the whole country lay exposed to be plundered. The weakness of Judah, its nakedness, and inability to keep itself, now appeared more than ever; and thus the covering of Judah was discovered."
--Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible

In verse 8, Isaiah says, "And He removed the defense of Judah." 'Defense' is the same word Matthew Henry means when he says 'covering'. Whatever hedge of protection Jerusalem thought it had through its fortified city was about to be lifted. (Isaiah expounds on this in the next few verses.) Even though the prophet tells us who the enemy is at the door, note that the one who removes the hedge is God. In this, as Henry points out in quoting fellow Biblical commentator Dr. John Lightfoot, there is greater meaning to this verse:

"Dr. Lightfoot gives another sense of it, that by this distress into which Judah should be brought God would discover their covering (that is, uncloak their hypocrisy), would show all that was in their heart...."
--Matthew Henry 

Recall last week's post, the beginning of the chapter, in which the people were partying on their rooftops. The people of Jerusalem celebrated not being in harm's way while the rest of their country had fallen. There was a pervasive attitude of, "Hey, we're fine. We don't need help. We've got everything we need." This is what brought Isaiah to tears ("...Let me weep bitterly...," 21:4) and to a point of frustration, really: "But you did not depend on Him who made it, nor did you take into consideration Him who planned it long ago." (vs. 11) This is the greater uncovering, to me.

The people of Jerusalem had it wrong even though their king at the time, Hezekiah--for a change--had it right. We don't see this example enough in modern times, do we, when the one in charge honors God, follows His way, yet still can't quite steer all of his leadership nor his people in the same? Hezekiah took the Assyrians seriously, and he attacked the problem with a two-pronged approach: Turn to God and do what you have to do with the resources that He has provided you. So, what did Jerusalem have?

Verse 8 says, "...You depended on the weapons of the house of the forest." It's not capitalized, but "house of the forest" was an important part of Solomon's palace that he built in the days of his kingdom.

"He built the house of the forest of Lebanon; its length was 100 cubits and its width 50 cubits and its height 30 cubits, on four rows of cedar pillars with cedar beams on the pillars. He made 300 shields of beaten gold, using three minas of gold on each shield, and the king put them in the house of the forest of Lebanon."
--I Kings 7:2 and 10:17

The elaborately built cedar weapons storehouse remained in Hezekiah's day. Indeed, Hezekiah added to the supply: "...and made weapons and shields in great number." (II Chronicles 32: 5) Jerusalem rested in the knowledge of a well-stocked armament. But, was that enough?

In verse 9, we read that there were breaches--"many"--in the city walls. Certainly, that is a perilous situation for an otherwise fortified city. But, here, too, Hezekiah stepped forward. "And he took courage and rebuilt all the wall that had been broken down and erected towers on it, and built another outside wall and strengthened the Millo [rampart or mound, part of the physical defensive landscape of northern Jerusalem (Smith's Bible Names Dictionary)] in the city of David...." Verse 10 further says that houses were torn down to make these improvements. Hezekiah did what was proper and necessary in his physical realm to make sure the city was safe. Jerusalem rested in the knowledge of a secured city wall. But, was that enough?

The end of verse 9 and verse 11 talk about Jerusalem's water supply. So significant is this fact that II Kings 20:20 documents Hezekiah's work here as part of his legacy: "Now the rest of the acts of Hezekiah and all his might, and how he made the pool and the conduit and brought water into the city, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah?" They are, and we will visit a verse from there momentarily. First, some background on Hezekiah's project from my study Bible. (To see where this is, look at the map of Jerusalem above and zoom in to the lower right-hand corner):

"A 1,700 foot long tunnel cut through solid rock (below Jerusalem) redirected water from the spring Gihon outside of Jerusalem (to the E) toward the S of Jerusalem into the pool of Siloam within the city to provide water in time of siege. The tunnel was a remarkable feat of engineering and boring skill, often 60 feet below the ground and large enough to walk through."

As part of his strategy, Hezekiah takes great pains to keep his people from thirsting while dehydrating the enemy.

"...He decided with his officers and his warriors to cut off the supply of water from the springs which were outside the city, and they helped him. So many people assembled and stopped up all the springs and the stream which flowed through the region, saying, 'Why should the kings of Assyria come and find abundant water?'"
--II Chronicles 32: 3 and 4

Jerusalem rested in the knowledge of a plentiful water supply. But, was that enough?

Hezekiah knew that even with all of the physical reinforcements, the preparations, the fortification of supplies, the strategic planning, that, no, all of this effort was not enough in and of itself. Was it necessary work? Absolutely! Time and time again in Scripture we read of how important it is to use that which God has given us, being material, time, talent, direction, gift. God expects us to use the investment He has made in us. (And if you need a reminder of the consequences of not doing so, read Jesus' "Parable of the Talents," Matthew 25: 14-28) He also expects, as the Steven Curtis Chapman song says, that "you do everything you do to the glory of the One who made you...." (I Corinthians 10:31)

Hezekiah trusted God, sought His counsel and prayed in earnest--not for his own sake, but for the sake of the people of God. "With him [Sennacherib] is only an arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God to help us and to fight our battles.'" (II Chronicles 32:8a)

Though Jerusalem would be spared a raid by Sennacherib, the city will have forgotten the saving work of its king. (And even Hezekiah would have his moment of pride.) The city will have rested in the knowledge that its enough was enough.

"You looked and looked and looked, but you never looked to him who gave you this city, never once consulted the One who has long had plans for this city."
--the end of verse 11 from The Message

"They did not design his glory in what they did. They fortified Jerusalem because it was a rich city and their own houses were in it, not because it was the holy city and God’s house was in it. In all our cares for the defence of the church we must look more at God’s interest in it than at our own."
--Matthew Henry

You may party "like it's 1999," but there's more ahead, and it's not good. ...'Til next week!


*     *     *

Next week:  Isaiah 22: 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).

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Isaiah 22: 1-5


The Valley of Vision

1 The oracle concerning the valley of vision.
What is the matter with you now, that you have all gone up to the housetops?
You who were full of noise,
You boisterous town, you exultant city;
Your slain were not slain with the sword,
Nor did they die in battle.

3 All your rulers have fled together,
And have been captured without the bow;
All of you who were found were taken captive together,
Though they had fled far away.
Therefore I say, “Turn your eyes away from me,
Let me weep bitterly,
Do not try to comfort me concerning the destruction of the daughter of my people.”
5 For the Lord God of hosts has a day of panic, subjugation and confusion
In the valley of vision,
A breaking down of walls
And a crying to the mountain.

With the completion of Chapter 22, we will officially be one-third of the way through Isaiah. WOW! Thinking I have learned so much, and also thinking, gee, there's a LOT more left to learn! It's all good. Praising God for His enlightenment over this study! Have to celebrate those mileposts when you reach them. This is a significant one on the journey.

Chapter 22 is called "The Valley of Vision" in my study Bible. Not a real place. But, after all the nations, towns and oases we have studied over these weeks, who's to say there wasn't a Valley of Vision? Bible scholars generally agree that this refers to Jerusalem--which received numerous visions, through prophets like Isaiah, as a chosen communication vehicle of God.

"Fitly enough is Jerusalem called a valley, for the mountains were round about it, and the land of Judah abounded with fruitful valleys. ...But most emphatically is it called a valley of vision because there God was known and his name was great, there the prophets were made acquainted with his mind by visions, and there the people saw the goings of their God and King in his sanctuary."
--Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible

This is not a note of encouragement to Jerusalem, however, as verse 1 begins (as so many other chapters we have read in Isaiah), "The oracle concerning...." The other nations have received their strong words. Jerusalem would now receive some of its own, through its home prophet. There is some question as to what time frame this prophecy references. The thwarted takeover (by God) by Sennacherib of Assyria is one possibility (II Kings 19). The destruction of the city by Babylon's Nebuchadnezzar is another. One can even make the case for an end-times double-fulfillment prophecy. What we can decide is that the actions of Jerusalem are not ignorable.

Finishing out verse 1, Isaiah asks the people why they are up on their rooftops. "What is the matter with you, now....?" If you are afraid of the enemy and you live in a valley, heading up to the roof would provide you with a better view of your surroundings. Judah had some looming enemies. Isaiah, in Chapter 15, makes reference to the people of Moab being on their housetops in a state of mourning:

"In their streets they have girded themselves with sackcloth; on their housetops and in their squares everyone is wailing, dissolved in tears."
--Isaiah 15:3

Another possibility, and, likely, Isaiah's point-of-view, is a popular choice even today--Party time! If this is post-Sennacherib's visit and the city was not destroyed, then it's time to celebrate. It's not that Isaiah doesn't understand the response of his people. Isaiah understands far too much more about the situation of his people to condone this response. "Your slain were not slain with the sword, nor did they die in battle," he says in verse 2. Jerusalem celebrated as if it contained a nation full of victorious soldiers who had endured a hard-fought battle. We know this isn't how the story went. [Do read II Kings 19 if you don't recall what we've looked at here over several chapters. King Hezekiah was on his knees in prayer for a reason!]

Isaiah's cry of "What is the matter with you?" might be on the same level as Jesus looking over Jerusalem centuries later. "When He approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, 'If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes.'" (Luke 19: 41 and 42) Isaiah's deep sorrow over Jerusalem's lack of response to their Lord for His work in saving their city leads him to express himself outwardly ("Let me weep bitterly. Do not try to comfort me...," verse 4), as well as to give a picture of how their lack of faithfulness and honor to God will play out in their future.

"Her adversaries have become her masters,
Her enemies prosper;
For the Lord has caused her grief
Because of the multitude of her transgressions;
Her little ones have gone away
As captives before the adversary."

--Lamentations 1:5

Verse 3 may well refer to Jerusalem's takeover by the Babylonians, not too much further down the road. King Nebuchadnezzar started with the outer layers of Judah before coming in to take over the city completely, burning it and pillaging the temple. "All your rulers have fled together...." (vs. 3) In reading the account of King Neb's closing campaign in II Kings 25, you will discover that a famine has left Jerusalem without food. This causes Neb's men to rush in to take the city in its weakness and Judah's King Zedekiah to make a last-ditch run for cover.

"Then the city was broken into, and all the men of war fled by night by way of the gate between the two walls beside the king’s garden, though the Chaldeans [Babylonians] were all around the city. And they went by way of the Arabah. But the army of the Chaldeans pursued the king and overtook him in the plains of Jericho and all his army was scattered from him. Then they captured the king and brought him to the king of Babylon at Riblah, and he passed sentence on him."
--II Kings 25: 4-6 (my addition)

Interestingly, The Message paraphrase entitles Isaiah 22 "A Country of Cowards." Even under King Zedekiah, folks were being taken into Babylonian captivity. The literal loss of leadership in Jerusalem (Zedekiah's sons were killed before him, ending the family reign, and the Babylonians speared out his eyes before carting him away) led to the complete collapse of the city, except for the most poor and the unskilled to labor in the fields. "All of you who were found were taken captive together...." (vs. 3)

Isaiah reiterates that a ceasing to the celebrations is warranted as "the Lord God of hosts has a day of panic, subjugation and confusion" in His plans. (vs. 5) The Amplified Bible says, "a day of discomfiture and of tumult, of treading down, of confusion and perplexity...." Always illuminating to do a word study (with definitions from the Online Etymology Dictionary)

  • 'Subjugation' means, most literally "to bring under a yoke." No doubt for the captives of Judah, the stories told for generations of freedom from the yoke of slavery of Egypt arose once again. Why do all those leaders and prophets, the songs and psalms, use words of remembrance? Because we forget! And forgetting some things--the most important thing!--is costly. Not recognizing God's provision, not to mention His authority and sovereignty, led Judah to experience that from which it had already come. 
[How Jesus' words should have carried such weight with the Jews when He spoke: "Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." (Matthew 11:29 and 30) Do you not remember the days of Babylon?]

  • 'Panic' means "of Pan." Do you remember Pan? I only remember him for his flute, and we still have pan flutes today (a series of multiple-length tubes banded together). He was the Greek god of woods and fields. What I had forgotten was probably the more important part of his nature--"the source of mysterious sounds that caused contagious, groundless fear in herds and crowds, or in people in lonely spots." Now you see where we get 'panic' from! If Judah had trusted in God, they would not have experienced the contagious, groundless fear that kept them herded together in their blind following of sin and misguided decisions.

  • 'Confusion'--means to "overthrow, ruin," "to pour together," also "to confuse" (or confound--See this post for another picture of this.) There will not just be the sense of disorder; there will be perplexity--Why? Why us? Why this? Why God?! Why??!?....

Unfortunately for Jerusalem, Isaiah has only begun to tell of the city's future discomfiture.

The forces are gearing up against Jerusalem ...'Til next Wednesday!


*     *     *

Next week:  Isaiah 22: 6-11
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).