Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Isaiah 23: 1-5

The Fall of Tyre

1 The oracle concerning Tyre.
Wail, O ships of Tarshish,
For Tyre is destroyed, without house or harbor;
It is reported to them from the land of Cyprus.
2 Be silent, you inhabitants of the coastland,
You merchants of Sidon; Your messengers crossed the sea
And were on many waters.
The grain of the Nile, the harvest of the River was her revenue;
And she was the market of nations.
Be ashamed, O Sidon;
For the sea speaks, the stronghold of the sea, saying,
“I have neither travailed nor given birth,
I have neither brought up young men nor reared virgins.”
When the report reaches Egypt,
They will be in anguish at the report of Tyre.

On the far right-hand corner of the map above, you will see the word Phoenicia. You will then see the two noted cities of that territory--Sidon and Tyre. Chapter 23 of Isaiah is the prophecy concerning the fall of Tyre. Today, through our opening verses, we piece together some background about this major trade city.

"Zidon [Sidon] was the more ancient city, situated upon the same sea-coast, a few leagues more to the north, and Tyre was at first only a colony of that; but the daughter had outgrown the mother, and become much more considerable. It may be a mortification to great cities to think how they were at first replenished."
--Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible (addition, mine)

Tyre may have started out as Sidon's child, but it grew to be one of the most important trade route locales on the Mediterranean Sea. This is one of those passages that requires a full read of the text, with supporting background, to appreciate why this is even here in the Bible. Tyre had a perfect location--the far-eastern part of the Mediterranean. Goods from that region would be loaded onto large cargo vessels and sent off to major ports westward, like Cypress, Crete, points in Greece and Italy, and over to Spain, which is where Tarshish may have been located. [The commentaries are all over the place on this one!] Being situated close to Egypt also meant Tyre had access to that country's resources, which we read about here in the text. The young, vibrant, bustling, economically minded city earned its title of "the market of nations." (vs. 3)
"'Tarshish was your customer because of the abundance of all kinds of wealth; with silver, iron, tin and lead they paid for your wares.... Judah and the land of Israel, they were your traders; with the wheat of Minnith, cakes, honey, oil and balm they paid for your merchandise....'"
--Ezekiel 27: 12 and 17 (Chapters 26 and 27 of Ezekiel also prophesy the fall in addition to giving many more details of Tyre's splendor and resources)
Knowing that Isaiah is always speaking to Judah, even when it seems like he isn't, it is helpful to understand the relationship between Judah and Tyre. It had been a very good relationship. We read in I Kings 5 how Solomon had struck an alliance between Judah and Tyre, through its king, Hiram. "...Hiram had always been a friend of David," it says in verse 1. Solomon arranged for his servants to work with Hiram's servants in constructing the Temple. There was also the marriage of the Phoenician Jezebel to Judah's King Ahab. Not that this was a good idea, nor was Ahab a righteous king in the eyes of God. But, this kept the alliance between the nations intact--the prophet, Amos, going so far as to call it "the covenant of brotherhood."

"We seldom find it [Tyre] a dangerous enemy to Israel, but sometimes their faithful ally, as in the reigns of David and Solomon; for trading cities maintain their grandeur, not by the conquest of their neighbours, but by commerce with them."
--Matthew Henry (addition mine)

Yet, the burden, the oracle, has come from Isaiah to Tyre. Let's look at the nations mentioned in today's text and their response to this news:

Tarshish: "Wail, O ships of Tarshish...." (vs. 1) As mentioned, Tarshish was believed to be a city in Spain, located at the southernmost tip, right on the Mediterranean--a logical westernmost point for trading ships headed east or around the peninsula and up to the north. You will recall that Tarshish was the intended destination of a runaway prophet named Jonah. With Tyre destroyed, a major trading post would, literally, be taken off the map. "...Without house or harbor" implies that not only would the traders of the city be unavailable to work commerce, but there would be no rest stop at which the sailors could enjoy a furlough.

Cyprus: From the text, sailors coming from Tarshish, who had stopped at Cyprus as part of their journey, would hear the news about Tyre. Compared to other stops on their journey, Cyprus to Tyre was one of the shorter legs of the trip. I would imagine emotions ranging from disappointment, as in, "I was hoping to enjoy a delicious meal and get off the water for awhile," to fear, as in, "It's been destroyed?! Why are we going to Tyre? Who's going to be there to greet {{gulp}} us?...."

Sidon: God's word for the older, established trade city of Phoenicia was, "Be silent...," and, "Be ashamed...." The Amplified Bible begins verse 4 this way: "Be ashamed, O Sidon [mother-city of Tyre, now a widow bereaved of her children], for the sea has spoken...." Sidon is left speechless, as her "daughter" will not be in the same position of spawning another successful trade city, much less any kind of city. Verse 4 is a lament of things that will never be known. The dreams of one with more to offer, snatched. Of course, there is another side to this story, which we'll unravel as we continue in Isaiah 23. But, for Sidon, the word of the loss is coupled with weightier thoughts: "What now? Is this a time to step in? Is this a time to run?" God says "Be silent. Be ashamed." There is worry, here.

Egypt: "...They will be in anguish...." Recall some of our earlier reading in Isaiah concerning the prophecy against Egypt. (Chapters 19 and 20) Egypt was certainly a key player on the world's trade front. Talk about location! Perfect conditions for growing and perfect avenues by which to export their products. See verse 3: "The grain of the Nile, and harvest of the River was her [Tyre's] revenue...." We learn that Egypt was not the sole exporter of her own crops. For all the wealth and sublime conditions for commerce that Egypt sported, Tyre still held some critical reins in the worldwide marketplace that would be advantageous for Egypt's status.

"Egypt indeed was a much larger and more considerable kingdom than Tyre was; and yet Tyre had so large a correspondence, upon the account of trade, that all the nations about shall be as much in pain, upon the report of the ruin of that one city, as they would have been, and not long after were, upon the report of the ruin of all Egypt...."
--Matthew Henry
Given all of this, why Tyre, Isaiah? 

"Who has planned this against Tyre?" (vs. 8) You can probably guess. ....'Til next time!

*     *     *

Next time:  Isaiah 23: 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, April 24, 2014

Isaiah 22: 22-25

22 “Then I will set the key of the house of David on his shoulder,
When he opens no one will shut,
When he shuts no one will open.
23 “I will drive him like a peg in a firm place,
And he will become a throne of glory to his father’s house.

24 So they will hang on him all the glory of his father’s house, 
offspring and issue, all the least of vessels, from bowls to all the jars.
25 In that day,” declares the Lord of hosts, 
“the peg driven in a firm place will give way; 
it will even break off and fall, 
and the load hanging on it will be cut off, for the Lord has spoken.” 

We finish Isaiah Chapter 22 today, as well as the story of Eliakim--the man who takes over as "prime minister," as God changes up the leadership in the ruling government of Judah. The former head of the household, Shebna, received a demotion from God, and we marked his transition to scribe last time with an exchange of earthly wardrobe.

Our last passage of the chapter opens with Eliakim receiving a "key of the house of David." (vs. 22) While not a literal key, Eliakim did earn the privileges that went with all aspects of maintaining Jerusalem, shy of being the king himself. His garments suited his position, so he would be recognized as the man with that authority. But, more importantly, here, is the greater significance of his being chosen by God to fulfill this position. The phrasing used here in verse 22 is found in another location in the Bible:

"He who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens, says this...."

--Revelation 3:7

John captures the words of Jesus in Revelation, as He speaks to the church at Philadelphia. The weightiness of the responsibility says a lot about holding this particular key. God did not hand off His city, His people, to the next one in line. This was a sovereign choice.

In verse 23, we also see the security that Eliakim will enjoy in this position. Placed as a "peg in a firm place." This would not be a tent peg hammered into sand or soft ground that could be lifted up in a short time and moved to a new place. The simile is one of stability. Verse 24 follows this up saying "they will hang on him all the glory of his father’s house...." Eliakim would be responsible for the weightiest needs, the lightest needs, and all needs in between ("bowls and jars"). Shebna had the title and the robes, but he did little to show for having authority save to flaunt it. Eliakim would "become a throne of glory to his father’s house."
"He raises the poor from the dust,
He lifts the needy from the ash heap
To make them sit with nobles,
And inherit a seat of honor;
For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s,
And He set the world on them."
--I Samuel 2:8

"Note, Rulers should be fathers to those that are under their government, to teach them with wisdom, rule them with love, and correct what is amiss with tenderness, to protect them and provide for them, and be solicitous about them as a man is for his own children and family. It is happy with a people when the court, the city, and the country, have no separate interests, but all centre in the same...."
--Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible

As God would raise up Samuel, so he would call forth Eliakim and lead him as the head of King Hezekiah's house, and that of all Judah. And, for a time, there would be a shoring up of the leadership with its focus, again, placed on following the word of the Lord. But, Isaiah finishes the chapter on a downer, because the punishment due Judah is something that is still being hung on its neck, even if not on the peg of Eliakim. There is a time, says the Lord, when even the firmest pegs will be removed--"break off and fall." (vs. 25)

It was quite interesting to see Esther 9: 24 and 25 listed as the cross-reference verses for verse 25. This is a passage referring to the fall and death sentence of Haman, Persian King Ahasuerus' (Xerxes', in the Greek) right-hand man. Just this week, I had a conversation with my daughter over God's revenge or judgment upon a situation--how often does it happen that one sees His justice carried out on those who seemingly get away with murder. Haman was one of those guys who seemed to have figured out his king's system so well that he might have gotten away with wiping out the Jews. God's elaborate and incredibly unpredictable plan not only allowed His people to survive but also pulled the peg on any future exploits by Haman. God only knows what leaving Shebna in power might have meant for Judah.

But God's plans are always for the benefit of His people! This is a fact lost on all of us from time to time. His ways are unexplainable, unattainable, unbelievable--yet, "If God is for us, who is against us?...." (Romans 8:31)

"Our Lord Jesus, having the key of the house of David, is as a nail in a sure place, and all the glory of his father’s house hangs upon him, is derived from him, and depends upon him; even the meanest that belong to his church are welcome to him, and he is able to bear the stress of them all. That soul cannot perish, nor that concern fall to the ground, though ever so weighty, that is by faith hung upon Christ."
--Matthew Henry

Chapter 23: The Fall of Tyre. ....'Til next time!

*     *     *

Next time:  Isaiah 23: 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).

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Isaiah 22: 19-21

19 “I will depose you from your office,
And I will pull you down from your station.
20 “Then it will come about in that day,
That I will summon My servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah,
21 And I will clothe him with your tunic
And tie your sash securely about him.
I will entrust him with your authority,
And he will become a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah.

Last week, we were introduced to Shebna, who was a steward and head of the royal household to King Hezekiah in Judah. God called Isaiah to prophesy against him, as the steward had let his position get the best of his head and his service. This week, we start reading about the process of Shebna's outplacement.

In verse 19, we read that Shebna will be deposed from his office. Original word meanings for 'depose' include to put away, to put down, to put aside; a laying down, disposal, or burying. (Online Etymology Dictionary) When you expand 'depose,' you get 'deposition,' which also gives us the idea of a testimony--a putting down or laying down of your word. Isaiah brought Shebna the news that he would be deposed. He would lose his place of position within Hezekiah's administration. If we agree with the historical data that suggest Shebna had a correspondence (with evil intent) relationship with Assyria's Sennacherib, then we might also say that Isaiah was calling him to dispose of his deposition: "Your testimony is no longer desired here."

"High places are slippery places; and those are justly deprived of their honour that are proud of it and puffed up with it, and deprived of their power that do hurt with it. God will do it, who shows himself to be God by looking upon proud men and abasing them, Job 40:11, 12."
--Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible

This was said last week, but is important to reiterate: The 'I' in the "pulling down" of Shebna is not Isaiah, not even really Hezekiah, but God. Scripture doesn't tell us how Shebna rose to his office nor--outside of building a royal tomb for himself--what other things he might have done to earn a call from the nation's prophet with his demotion papers. But, Scripture does tell us that God is not too far away to act in circumstances that grieve Him, and pride is one of those sins that He speaks of and deals with swiftly in His people.

"All the trees of the field will know that I am the Lord; I bring down the high tree, exalt the low tree, dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish. I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will perform it."
--Ezekiel 17:24

Then, verse 20, there is a new calling announced: Eliakim, the son of Hilkiah, will be summoned to step forward and take Shebna's place. Note the use of "My servant" in the passage. Again, this is not Hezekiah making an appointment, but God saying that, "in that day," "My servant" will be called. A man of God's own choosing.

As we move into verse 21, you might imagine a look of anguish on Shebna's face--his hands over his ears, as he cannot believe what he is hearing. Isaiah is not finished speaking, as he not only deposes but disrobes Shebna in a physical representation of his slippery slope down and out of office. First, he takes his tunic, which was the basic garment for all men--though likely of finer quality given Shebna's position. Eliakim gets that. Then, Shebna's sash--a symbol of high position--was to be tied firmly around Eliakim. Finally, the words: "I entrust him with your authority," which can be more literally translated as "rule," and "he will become a father" to the nation.

Can you see Shebna, perhaps standing before his in-construction lofty final resting place, hearing that it was all going to be taken from him? No position. No authority. Certainly, no side benefits. No legacy outside of what Isaiah would capture in Scripture. Recall that Shebna is not fired, but demoted. He would be a scribe, part of Eliakim's supporting staff. But, that was a long way to fall in the scheme of things back in the day.
"When they called to the king, Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, and Shebnah the scribe and Joah the son of Asaph the recorder, came out to them."
--II Kings 18:18 (meeting Sennacherib's representatives at the gates of Jerusalem)

It's not an "official" cross-reference passage, but in all this talk about clothing, I couldn't help but recall Jesus' appearance before Pilate. Jesus did not don a fancy tunic, nor the sash of an official to the king. In mocking Him, the soldiers placed on Jesus a purple robe and a crown of thorns. The King of the Jews certainly didn't dress like one. Nor did He lord His authority over them. This is a concept Shebna did not understand. Not only did clothes not make the man, but authority is not self-made.

"So Pilate said to Him, 'You do not speak to me? Do You not know that I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You?'  

Jesus answered, 'You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above....'"
--John 19: 10 and 11a

What was Shebna's downfall would be a quality seen in Eliakim that would redeem the integrity of the office, as well as signify him as a type of Christ (more on that next time). The more Shebna tried to mold himself into an authority figure, using all the external, worldly items at his disposal (!), the closer he found himself to earning God's displeasure and, ultimately, permanent displacement. God spoke the word Himself to His people: "You shall have no other gods before me." (Exodus 20:3). Jesus would echo the same principle: "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth." (Matthew 28: 18, emphasis mine) Jesus didn't have all authority until His Father gave it to Him.

Do we see in Whom lies control of our lives?! 

"God undertakes the doing of it, not only because he would put it into the heart of Hezekiah to do it, and his hand must be acknowledged guiding the hearts of princes in placing and displacing men (Proverbs 21:1--"The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes."), but because the powers that are, subordinate as well as supreme, are ordained of God."
--Matthew Henry


Official Study Break! Then, we close out Chapter 22. ....'Til next time!


*     *     *

Next time:  Isaiah 22: 22-25
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, April 2, 2014

Isaiah 22: 15-18

15 Thus says the Lord God of hosts,
“Come, go to this steward,
To Shebna, who is in charge of the royal household,
16 ‘What right do you have here,
And whom do you have here,
That you have hewn a tomb for yourself here,
You who hew a tomb on the height,
You who carve a resting place for
yourself in the rock?
17 ‘Behold, the Lord is about to hurl you headlong, O man.
And He is about to grasp you firmly
18 And roll you tightly like a ball,
To be cast into a vast country;
There you will die
And there your splendid chariots will be,
You shame of your master’s house.’

There is more to Isaiah, Chapter 22. With the close of verse 14, we did not reach an end in the prophecy of Jerusalem but a pause. If the first 14 verses were the lead article, verse 15 might be the beginning of a sidebar. Isaiah has been speaking to all of Jerusalem when God touches him on the sleeve, figuratively, and says, "Come...." There is more to be said, and we discover more of the problems that plague Jerusalem through one of its servants.

Shebna is a " charge of the royal household." What my study Bible calls 'steward' the King James Version and Amplified Bible call 'treasurer'. We know, then, that Shebna handled money. Being in charge of the house is like being chief of staff or prime minister. He was someone with very high authority, as in not the king, but close.

We also know from Scripture that he was a scribe.

"When they called to the king, Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, and Shebnah the scribe and Joah the son of Asaph the recorder, came out to them."
--II Kings 18:18
This is the time when King Hezekiah's intermediaries met the liaison from the Assyrian delegation that had parked itself outside Jerusalem's gates. Shebna and his fellow servants to the king called for calm at a time when Sennacherib's forces wished to rock the city walls down and scare all the people--which is exactly what the Assyrians did. At this point in time, Shebna appears to be fulfilling his role.

But, the prophecy from Chapter 22 describes a different time and situation, before the time Shebna faces Sennacherib's folks. In fact, we will learn next week that Shebna is demoted to scribe (Isaiah 22:19). In his higher position as steward, it seems Shebna ran into difficulty with his integrity. In verse 16, Isaiah questions him: Who are you? "You who hew a tomb...." [Say that 10 times fast!] Really, it's who do you think you are, Mister Big Stuff?! Shebna decided that he was worthy of a burial place fit for a king, quite literally. Do you remember reading about the fallen pompous kings of Sheol in Chapter 14? These verses sound so much like that.

"But you said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven;
I will raise my throne above the stars of God,
And I will sit on the mount of assembly in the recesses of the north.

I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.'
Nevertheless you will be thrust down to Sheol,
To the recesses of the pit."

--Isaiah 14: 13-15

Shebna arranged to have a tomb carved from rock. Not just any rock, but rock that was of considerable height. ("A tomb that may be Shebna’s, cut in the rock, has been excavated in the Kidron Valley."--Reformation Study Bible) This would have involved calling in some craftsman.

"So very nice and curious was it that it seemed rather to be the work of an engraver than of a mason or carpenter; and it seemed engraven in a rock, so firmly was it founded and so impregnable was it. “Nay, thou hast hewed thee out a sepulchre,” as if he designed that his pomp should survive his funeral."
--Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible
"What right do you have here...?" Isaiah asks. Indeed! A man in the position that Shebna held should not have expected the benefits of the king for himself. We can make a reasonable guess that Shebna had a problem with pride. He may have been more caught up in his titles than he was in the work of guiding the people of Jerusalem. There is suggestion in commentary that he may have been writing to Sennacherib--corresponding with more than the regular payment of the tribute. Under such a Godly influence as Hezekiah, Shebna would have had the opportunity to have found great blessing in serving. The larger error, of course, was his disobedience to the God he was supposed to be honoring in his word and deed.

With verse 17, Shebna's fate is revealed in graphic description. I'm sorry to say that I'm stifling chuckles because I have these pictures of cartoons and mythical movies in which the "giant" scoops up the small trouble-in-its-way, balls him in its hands, and throws him off the screen. As a little kid, you don't know any better. I do know, now, though--this isn't funny. Isaiah is saying that Shebna thought himself so high that it would be the Lord's doing to hurl him down from the heights he thought he was at! He will be thrown "to a vast country." Unnamed, but not Judah. "There you will die...." You and the "splendid chariots" you somehow found time and funds to create for yourself with which to get around the city. No, not funny at all.

It is not known exactly what happened to Shebna, either. Perhaps he was taken by the Assyrians. Hezekiah may have tossed him out, as part of his reforming work. There's even a report that Shebna developed leprosy ("which was a disease commonly supposed to come from the immediate hand of God’s displeasure, particularly for the punishment of the proud, as in the case of Miriam and Uzziah"--Matthew Henry), and left the country in disgrace. "You shame of your master's house." Two masters, really.

Jerusalem's people were certainly at fault in their disobedience. The first of this chapter makes that clear to us. God grants us a look at the inner failings of a governmental system through one of its leaders. When we ask why Hezekiah couldn't pull off total reform of his city, of his country, perhaps this is another reason why? Even so....

"It is likewise a confirmation in general of the hand of divine Providence in all events of this kind, which to us seem contingent and to depend upon the wills and fancies of princes. Promotion comes not from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south; but God is the Judge...."

--Matthew Henry

Out with the old, in with the new. Goodbye, Shebna! ....'Til next week!

*     *     *

Next week:  Isaiah 22: 19-21
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).