Tagged: Assyria

Isaiah 37: My Hook in Your Nose

Isaiah 37: My Hook in Your Nose (audio)

Isaiah 37: My Hook in Your Nose — Study Notes and Worksheet (pdf)

Prologue

Where we are:

Part 1: Judgment Part 2: Historical Interlude Part 3: Salvation
Chapters 1-35 Chapters 36-39 Chapters 40-66

When this takes place:

The events in this chapter occur in 701 B.C., when Sennacherib besieges Jerusalem.

Key verses:

Isa. 37:28-29 – But I know your sitting down, your going out and your coming in, and your raging against Me. Because your raging against Me and your arrogance has reached My ears, I will put My hook in your nose and My bit in your mouth; I will make you go back the way you came.

Quick summary:

When Hezekiah hears of Sennacherib’s siege of Jerusalem and the Assyrian’s blasphemous boasts, the king of Judah asks Isaiah to seek the Lord on the people’s behalf. Isaiah delivers three messages from the Lord, according to Willmington’s Bible Handbook (S. 368):

  • Message 1: “Don’t worry, he’s doomed” (vv. 5-20).
  • Message 2: Sennacherib’s rise and ruin (vv. 21-29).
  • Message 3: “Neither army nor arrows will enter the city” (vv. 30-35).

These messages are fulfilled (vv. 36-38). The angel of the Lord miraculously destroys the Assyrian army. Sennacherib returns home and, some time later, is assassinated.

Take note:

“The Angel of the Lord,” who strikes 185,000 Assyrians dead on the hills surrounding Jerusalem, is a “theophany,” an appearance or manifestation of God to people. Many commentators believe the Angel of the Lord (distinct from “an angel of the Lord” or “an angel sent by the Lord”) is the pre-incarnate Messiah, who appears in numerous places to different people throughout the Old Testament: to Hagar in the wilderness (Gen. 16:7-11); to Moses in the burning bush (Ex. 3); to Balaam as he rode his donkey (Num. 22:22-35); to Gideon beneath the oak of Ophrah (Judges 6:11-24); to David in Jerusalem (2 Sam. 24:11-17); and elsewhere.

 

Don’t be Afraid (Isa. 37:1-7)

Like the envoys sent to meet the Assyrian commander, King Hezekiah tears his clothes in anguish over the Rabshakeh’s threats and in response to the pagan’s blasphemy. The king also puts on sackcloth and enters the temple as a public declaration that the nation’s destiny is fully in the hands of the God of Israel. He sends Eliakim, who is in charge of the palace, and Shebna the scribe to Isaiah, declaring this “a day of distress, rebuke, and disgrace” and seeking a word from the Lord through the prophet. Picking up the imagery from Isa. 26:17-18, they compare Judah to a woman so weakened in pregnancy that she is about to die in childbirth.

Although the Assyrian commander mocks the living God in hopes of driving Hezekiah to abandon his faith and agree to surrender, the king turns to the Lord for deliverance. Matthew Henry writes, “Rabshakeh intended to frighten Hezekiah from the Lord, but it proves that he frightens him to the Lord. The wind, instead of forcing the traveller’s coat from him, makes him wrap it the closer about him. The more Rabshakeh reproaches God the more Hezekiah studies to honour him, by rending his clothes for the dishonour done to him and attending in his sanctuary to know his mind”  (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 37:1).

Isaiah tells the messengers to assure the king not to be afraid. The Lord has heard the Rabshakeh’s boasting and blasphemy and will not permit them to go unpunished. He will put “a spirit” in King Sennacherib, influencing his judgment and causing him to return to his country, where he will die by the sword. This comes to pass as Sennacherib, who has turned to the southwest to face off against Judah’s allies, hears of the death of 185,000 Assyrian soldiers and goes home to regroup, only to be assassinated.

Sennacherib’s Letter (Isa. 37:8-13)

Sennacherib has left Lachish, the city from which he stages his assault on Jerusalem, in order to address a threat from Tirhakah, a Cushite army commander who later will become king of Egypt. Word has arrived that Tirhakah has come to the aid of Judah, and Sennacherib moves his forces five miles north of Lachish to meet the Cushite army. Not wanting to fight a war on two fronts, Sennacherib sends a threatening letter to Judah’s King Hezekiah, urging him to surrender immediately. He reminds Hezekiah that other nations’ gods were powerless to stop the advancing Assyrian war machine and that Judah’s God will fare no better. Gozan, a city on the Habor River, fell to the Assyrians a century earlier. Haran, a city in Aram, is now an Assyrian stronghold. Rezeph, also a city in Aram, had long ago been subdued. The arrogant king lists other places and their leaders that have fallen into Assyria’s hands.

Matthew Henry comments: “Great successes often harden sinners’ hearts in their sinful ways and make them the more daring. Because the kings of Assyria have destroyed all lands (though, in fact, they were but a few that fell within their reach), therefore they doubt not but to destroy God’s land; because the gods of the nations were unable to help they conclude the God of Israel is so…. Thus is this proud man ripened for ruin by the sunshine of prosperity” (S. Is 37:8).

Hezekiah’s Prayer (Isa. 37:14-20)

Hezekiah takes Sennacherib’s taunting letter to the temple and lays it out before the Lord. What follows is a great prayer of faith. The king begins with praise, acknowledging the Lord of Hosts as the one true and living God, the Creator, exalted above all things and sovereign over the kingdoms of the world. Referring to Him as “God of Israel,” Hezekiah remembers (for God needs no reminding of) the special covenant relationship between the Lord and His people. The king’s reference to God being “enthroned above the cherubim” points to His presence, the Shekinah glory, in the Holy of Holies in Jerusalem’s temple (1 Kings 6:23; 8:10-13). The cherubim “are so inseparably associated with the manifestation of God’s glory, that whether the Lord is at rest or in motion, they always are mentioned with Him (Nu 7:89; Ps 18:10)” (Robert Jamieson, A.R. Fausset, David Brown, A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments, S. Is 37:16).

The king confesses God’s sovereignty over all the kingdoms of the world, including Assyria, which has demolished its enemies and run roughshod over their false gods, gods of wood and stone “made by human hands” (v. 19). But now Sennacherib has overstepped his bounds, mocking the living God and treating Him and His people with contempt. Hezekiah’s plea is simple, humble and direct: “Now, Lord our God, save us from his hand so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You are the Lord – You alone” (v. 20).

God’s Answer (Isa. 37:21-35)

The Lord’s reply to Hezekiah’s prayer provides a three-fold assurance: Jerusalem will not be taken; the Assyrians will not stay; and the Jews will not starve.

The “Daughter Zion,” like a young virgin, will not be ravaged by the barbarous Assyrians. She may look at the enemy and shake her head in scorn because he cannot touch her. The Lord will spare His remnant for a number of reasons. First, to glorify His name (vv. 23, 35). Sennacherib has mocked the God of Israel and the Assyrians have exalted themselves above all men and gods, but they will soon learn to fear the one true and living God. Second, the Lord will spare Jerusalem because of His covenant with David (v. 35; 2 Sam. 7). He promised that one of David’s descendents would reign on the throne forever. Ultimately this is fulfilled in Christ. It’s true that Jerusalem will fall and the temple will be destroyed a century later at the hands of the Babylonians, but God’s promise stands and His timing and purpose are unchallenged. A third reason the Lord will spare a remnant is because of His promise to use Israel as the means by which the Abrahamic covenant would be fulfilled and all the world would be blessed through the Messiah (Gen. 12:1-3).

The Lord’s second assurance to Hezekiah is that the Assyrians will not stay (vv. 23-29). God addresses Sennacherib directly in these verses, reminding the king that his empty and blasphemous boasts will not thwart the plan of God. Ultimately, the Lord will humble the king and his army and lead them like cattle away from Daughter Zion: “I will put My hook in your nose and My bit in your mouth; I will make you go back the way you came” (v. 29).

The Lord’s final assurance is that the Jews will have enough to eat – comforting words to people under siege. Although normal agricultural pursuits would be interrupted momentarily, the cycle of planting and harvesting would return to normal within three years (v. 30). Warren Wiersbe observes that Psalm126 may have been written to commemorate Jerusalem’s deliverance from the Assyrians: “The harvest promise in verse 30 parallels Psalm 126:5–6. The seed would certainly be precious in those days! That grain could be used for making bread for the family, but the father must use it for seed; so it is no wonder he weeps. Yet God promised a harvest, and He kept His promise. The people did not starve” (Be Comforted, S. Is 36:1).

Sennacherib’s Demise (Isa. 37:36-38)

As God promises, the Assyrians fail to take Jerusalem. The angel of the Lord, who some commentators say is the pre-incarnate Messiah, strikes down 185,000 enemy soldiers in a single night. The carnage the next morning is difficult to fathom: There are no signs of a struggle, no battle wounds on the fallen; just a massive army of soldiers lying dead on the hillsides. The Lord promised to chop down the Assyrians like a forest (Isa. 10:33-34), pummel them like a storm with fire, rain, a torrent and hailstones (Isa. 30:27-30), and destroy their leader (Isa. 30:31-33), and now He is true to His word. The work of God on this fateful night reminds the Jews of His sovereignty in bringing both deliverance and judgment (Ex. 12:12; 2 Sam. 24:15-17).

News of the Assyrian defeat prompts Sennacherib to leave Judah and return to his capital city of Ninevah. Twenty years later, as a result of a power struggle, he is assassinated by two of his sons while worshiping in the temple of his god Nisroch (or Asshur, the chief Assyrian god depicted as an eagle-headed human figure), thus fulfilling Isa. 37:7 (see also 2 Kings 19:7, 35-37). Although Sennacherib mocks the God of Israel, his own god is unable to save him.

Closing Thought

Matthew Henry summarizes: “God can quickly stop their breath who breathe out threatenings and slaughter against his people, and will do it when they have filled up the measure of their iniquity; and the Lord is known by these judgments which he executes, known to be a God that resists the proud. Many prophecies were fulfilled in this providence, which should encourage us, as far as they look further, and are designed as common and general assurances of the safety of the church and of all that trust in God …” (S. Isa 37:21).

Copyright 2009 by Rob Phillips

Isaiah 36: The Rabshakeh Speaks

Isaiah 36: The Rabshakeh Speaks (audio)

Isaiah 36: The Rabshakeh Speaks — notes and worksheet (pdf)

Prologue

Where we are:

Part 1: Judgment Part 2: Historical Interlude Part 3: Salvation
Chapters 1-35 Chapters 36-39 Chapters 40-66

When this takes place:

The events in this chapter occur in 701 B.C., when Sennacherib besieges Jerusalem. It is the 14th year of King Hezekiah’s reign, which began in 715 B.C.

Key verses:

Isa. 36:18-20 – “[Beware] that Hezekiah does not mislead you by saying, ‘The Lord will deliver us.’ Has any one of the gods of the nations delivered his land from the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim? Have they delivered Samaria from my hand? Who of all the gods of these lands [ever] delivered his land from my hand, that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem?”

Quick summary:

Sennacherib, the Assyrian king, reports in his royal annals that he has captured 46 walled cities and countless villages in his conquest of Judah. Among the more important cities is Lachish, from which he sends his personal representative, the Rabshakeh, and a large army to surround Jerusalem and demand its surrender. The Rabshakeh, a high-ranking Assyrian official and the king’s cupbearer, mocks Judah’s king Hezekiah and the king’s trust in the Holy One of Israel. Hezekiah’s representatives – Eliakim, who is in charge of the palace; Shebna, the scribe; and Joah, the record keeper – receive the Rabshakeh’s call to surrender and deliver it to the king. They have torn their clothes as a sign of mourning and deep distress.

Take note:

Isaiah notes that the Rabshakeh delivers his message “near the conduit of the upper pool, by the road to the Fuller’s Field” (v. 2). This place is significant for geographical and theological reasons. Thirty years earlier, the Lord tells Isaiah to take his son Shear-jashub and meet King Ahaz at this location (Isa. 7:3). The prophet assures Ahaz that the allied forces of Aram and Israel will not defeat Judah. But Ahaz trembles and refuses to trust the Lord, turning instead to an alliance with Assyria (2 Kings 16:5-9). Now King Hezekiah faces a more ominous threat from Judah’s former ally, the Assyrians, whose messenger stands on the same spot, blaspheming the Lord and belittling His people. Will Hezekiah listen to the Rabshekah or remember the message of deliverance from Isaiah? Will the king, unlike his predecessor, stand firm in his faith?

The Men Sent by Kings (Isa. 36:1-3)

Sennacherib, who rules Assyria from 705-681 B.C., has boasted of conquering 46 walled villages in Judah and numerous unprotected communities, as well as taking more than 200,000 people captive. His invasion begins in the north as his army moves along the coast, defeating such towns as Aphek, Timnah, Ekron and Lachish. Lachish, about 30 miles southwest of Jerusalem, then becomes the staging area for his attack on other towns and the place from which he sends his spokesman and a massive army.

According to 2 Kings 18:17, Sennacherib sends three of his most important officers to arrange for Hezekiah’s surrender of the capital city: Tartan (supreme commander), Rabsaris (chief officer) and Rabshakeh (field commander). These are military titles, not personal names. Judah’s representatives are Eliakim, who is in charge of the king’s palace; Shebna, the scribe who has been demoted and replaced by Eliakim as the king’s cupbearer; and Joah, the record keeper.

The Message for Hezekiah (Isa. 36:4-20)

The Rabshakeh directs his message to Hezekiah, speaking loudly in Hebrew so that even the common citizens on Jerusalem’s wall may hear his taunting words. “The field commander’s speech is one of the most insolent and blasphemous found anywhere in Scripture, for he reproached the God of Israel,” according to Warren W. Wiersbe. “His speech is a masterful piece of psychological warfare in which he discredits everything that the Jews held dear” (Be Comforted, S. Is 36:1).

Interestingly, the Rabshakeh begins by echoing one of Isaiah’s messages, reminding the Jews that their trust in Egypt is misplaced. “Now who are you trusting in that you have rebelled against me?” he shouts. “Look, you are trusting in Egypt, that splintered reed of a staff” (vv. 5b-6a; compare with Isaiah’s words in 30:1-7; 31:1-3).

Next, he mischaracterizes Hezekiah’s religious reforms in Judah to accuse God’s people of having no help in heaven or on earth (v. 7). “The Assyrian mistakes Hezekiah’s religious reforms whereby he took away the high places (2Ki 18:4) as directed against Jehovah. Some of the high places may have been dedicated to Jehovah, but worshipped under the form of an image in violation of the second commandment…. Hence the Assyrian’s allegation has a specious color: you cannot look for help from Jehovah, for your king has ‘taken away His altars’” (Robert Jamieson, A.R. Fausset, David Brown, A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments, S. Is 36:7).

For the Jews, the only reasonable response to their hopeless condition is to surrender, according to the Rabshakeh, who mockingly offers to give them 2,000 horses if they can only find a matching number of riders. But even 2,000 Jewish soldiers on horses are no match for the lowest ranking Assyrian officer. Why should God’s people continue to barricade themselves behind Jerusalem’s walls when the Lord Himself has commanded the Assyrians to take the city? “Have I attacked this land to destroy it without the Lord’s approval?” asks the Rabshakeh. “The Lord said to me, ‘Attack this land and destroy it’” (v. 10). These words are meant to terrorize the people by making them think the Lord has abandoned them, when in fact Isaiah has told them to trust God, who will not permit the Assyrians to take the city. While the Lord of Hosts has indeed used the Assyrians as His rod of judgment against both Israel and Judah, He has spoken no word to Assyria’s leaders assuring them of their conquest of Judah’s capital city. The Rabshakeh falsely invokes the name of Israel’s God. As he will soon learn, no nation can use God’s name with impunity.

God calls us to walk by faith and not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7). The Rabshakeh’s call to surrender may sound reasonable to the unbelieving Jews who saw their city surrounded and their allies crushed by the brutal Assyrian hoards. But God has promised to deliver His people and He remains true to His word.

Judah’s messengers respond to the Rabshakeh’s opening volley by making the reasonable request that matters of state be discussed privately rather than “within earshot of the people who are on the wall” (v. 11). Aramaic is a major diplomatic language in Isaiah’s day, similar to Hebrew but different enough so the common people have difficulty understanding it. The concern of Judah’s representatives is that panic will spread throughout the city. The Assyrian’s response – denigrating the Jews and speaking loudly in Hebrew – reveals his character. “Proud and haughty scorners, the fairer they are spoken to, commonly speak the fouler,” writes Matthew Henry. “Nothing could be said more mildly and respectfully than that which Hezekiah’s agents said to Rabshakeh…. To give rough answers to those who give us soft answers is one way of rendering evil for good; and those are wicked indeed, and it is to be feared incurable, with whom that which usually turns away wrath does but make bad worse” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 36:11).

Calling out to the people in Hebrew, the Rabshakeh urges them not to let Hezekiah deceive them into thinking the Lord will deliver them from the Assyrians (vv. 13-15). Rather, the people are exhorted to lay down their weapons and surrender without a fight. If they do, even though they will be taken captive, Sennacherib will ensure their prosperity in another land. Pressing his persuasion further, the Rabshakeh asks the Jews, “Has any one of the gods of the nations delivered his land from the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim?” (vv. 18-19). Hamath and Arpad are cities in Aram. The location of Sepharvaim is unknown but possibly near the other two. People are brought from these cities to repopulate Samaria after its fall (2 Kings 17:24). The commander also boasts that since Samaria’s god failed to rescue the northern kingdom 21 years earlier (722 B.C.), the people of the southern kingdom have no reason to hope in deliverance at the hand of the Lord of Hosts.

The Misery of the Messengers (Isa. 36:21-22)

The Rahshakeh’s words no doubt terrorize Hezekiah’s men who, in obedience to the king, say nothing in reply. In fact God’s Word instructs us about a proper response to arrogant and foolish people like the Assyrian commander: “Don’t answer a fool according to his foolishness, or you’ll be like him yourself” (Prov. 26:4). Eliakim, Shebna and Joah return to Hezekiah and, with clothes torn as a sign of distress, mourning or grief over the blasphemy they have just heard, report the Rabshakeh’s words.

It’s possible that Hezekiah has instructed his men to receive the Assyrian commander’s message in silence so they would not be guilty of engaging a blasphemer in a war of words. In Exodus 14, for example, as the Jews are trapped between the Red Sea and the Egyptian army, and as they begin to question God and His chosen leader, Moses rebukes them, shouting, “The Lord will fight for you; you must be quiet” (Ex. 14:14). And in Jude 1:9, the writer reminds Christians to trust God to deal with blasphemers and apostates: “Yet Michael the archangel, when he was disputing with the Devil in a debate about Moses’ body, did not dare bring an abusive condemnation against him, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you!’”

Closing Thought

Warren W. Wiersbe comments: “Crises often come when circumstances seem to be at their best. Hezekiah had led the nation in a great reformation, and the people were united in the fear of the Lord. They had put away their idols, restored the temple services, and sought the blessing of their God. But instead of receiving blessing, they found themselves facing battles! ‘After all that Hezekiah had so faithfully done, Sennacherib king of Assyria came and invaded Judah’ (2 Chron. 32:1, NIV). Had God turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to all that Hezekiah and his people had done? Of course not! The Assyrian invasion was a part of God’s discipline to teach His people to trust Him alone. Even Hezekiah had at first put his trust in treaties and treasures (2 Kings 18:13–16), only to learn that the enemy will keep the wealth but not keep his word. Judah had negotiated to get help from Egypt, an act of unbelief that Isaiah severely rebuked (Isa. 30:1–7; 31:1–3). God’s great purpose in the life of faith is to build godly character. Hezekiah and his people needed to learn that faith is living without scheming” (Be Comforted, S. Is 36:1).

Copyright 2009 by Rob Phillips

Isaiah 32: A King will Reign Righteously

Isaiah 32: A King will Reign Righteously / Listen to the audio

Download a worksheet on Isaiah 32 for further study

Prologue

Where we are:

Part 1: Judgment

Part 2: Historical Interlude

Part 3: Salvation

Chapters 1-35

Chapters 36-39

Chapters 40-66

When this takes place:

Since the surrounding chapters address the Assyrian attack on Jerusalem in 701 B.C., a date approximately one year prior to that event fits the broad setting of Isaiah 30-32. Isa. 32:10 indicates that Jerusalem will be assaulted in “a little more than a year.”

Key verses:

Isa. 31:14-15 – For the palace will be forsaken, the busy city abandoned … until the Spirit from heaven is poured out on us. Then the desert will become an orchard, and the orchard will seem like a forest.

Quick summary:

In verses 1-8 Isaiah describes the righteous rule of the Messianic king, and in verses 15-20 he provides some detail about the work of the Spirit in that day. Between these comforting promises the prophet warns the “complacent women” of Jerusalem that they will soon experience Assyria’s wrath (vv. 9-14).

Take note:

Isaiah places his comments about the woes in Judah between two prophetic views of the future, one involving the reign of the Messiah and the other concerning the ministry of the Holy Spirit. In verses 1-8 we see a glorious foreshadowing of the righteous king, and in verses 15-20 we catch a glimpse of the Spirit sent from heaven. Verses 9-14, however, bring us back to Isaiah’s day and record the prophet’s warning to Judah’s complacent women. This chapter is similar to others in the book of Isaiah in which God’s message of pending judgment is tempered by His wonderful promises of future blessing. Through it all we are reminded that the Holy One of Israel is a covenant-keeping God.

The Righteous King (Isa. 32:1-8)

Isaiah calls the citizens of Judah to look beyond their current plight to the triumphant Messiah, who will reign in righteousness. Even the rulers under Him will project Messianic qualities. Their just leadership will be like “a shelter from the wind, a refuge from the rain … streams of water in a dry land, and the shade of a massive rock in an arid land” (v. 2). John the apostle also sees this marvelous day in his vision on the island of Patmos. Resurrected and glorified believers “will be priests of God and the Messiah, and they will reign with Him” – first for 1,000 years, and then “forever and ever” (see Rev. 5:10, 20:6, 22:5).

Warren Wiersbe writes: “In Isaiah 32:1, Isaiah writes about ‘a king’; but in 33:17, he calls him ‘the king.’ By the time you get to verse 22, He is ‘our king.’ It is not enough to say that Jesus Christ is ‘a King’ or even ‘the King.’ We must confess our faith in Him and say with assurance that He is ‘our King.’ Like Nathanael, we must say, ‘Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ (John 1:49, NKJV)” (Be Comforted, S. Is 32:1).

In the age to come, people will see and hear the Lord clearly – a stark contrast to their present spiritual stupor. They will understand God’s Word and speak its truths profoundly (compare vv. 3-4 with Isa. 29:10-12). Fools and scoundrels will be exposed as the evil-doers they are. Their nobility and respect will be taken away. The people will see that the fool (Heb. nabal, “senseless” one) “plots iniquity … lives in a godless way … speaks falsely about the Lord … leaves the hungry empty and deprives the thirsty of drink” (v. 6). In addition, the people will stand nobly for what is right, no longer falling victim to the scoundrel who “hatches plots to destroy the needy with lies” and takes advantage of the poor (v. 7). As D.A. Carson notes, “Above all, truth has ousted the fictions under which vice takes shelter” (New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, S. Is 32:1).

Complacent Women (Isa. 32:9-14)

In the shadow of Jerusalem’s wicked rulers are their aristocratic wives, whose complacency and self-interest make matters worse in Judah. They trouble themselves little about urgent political matters, preferring to indulge in their lavish lifestyles (see Isa. 3:16-23). Isaiah warns them that in “a little more than a year” the land and the cities will be desolate. This comes to pass in 701 B.C. when Sennacherib’s Assyrian army overruns the land and devastates it. The Jews surrounded in Jerusalem naturally are worried about future harvests, and Isaiah has a word for them (Isa. 37:30-31). But before the siege ends and God miraculously delivers Jerusalem, the city’s leading ladies will suffer a great deal.

John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck comment: “The first evidence of the judgment would be the failing of the harvest of grapes and other fruit, perhaps because the Assyrians would overrun the fields. Therefore because of the ravaging of the land the women would mourn. If the noisy city to be deserted (32:14) refers to Jerusalem then Isaiah meant that the Assyrian attack was the beginning of the end for Jerusalem, which fell to the Babylonians 115 years later (in 586 b.c.). In that case Isaiah was not saying (v. 10) that the judgment would be completed in about a year but that it would begin in about a year. However, perhaps ‘the noisy city’ refers to any one of the 46 Judean cities Sennacherib king of Assyria claimed to have defeated” (The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, S. 1:1082).

The Spirit from Heaven (Isa. 32:15-20)

In the closing verses of this chapter, Isaiah turns his attention to the future ministry of the Holy Spirit, who will be “poured out” on the people, usher in an era of peace resulting from righteousness, and guarantee abundant crops. What a contrast between verses 14 and 15. From a forsaken palace and abandoned city to a thriving land of peace and prosperity, Jerusalem is revived by the divine presence of the Holy Spirit. It’s the same in the human heart. The unbeliever is spiritually dead, desolate and depraved until the Spirit makes him or her alive through regeneration (see Eph. 2:1-10; Titus 3:5-7).

The result of Spirit-produced righteousness is peace (v. 17). Lawrence O. Richards elaborates: “The Heb. word for peace, shalom, expresses a basic and vital biblical concept. The word suggests wholeness and harmony, that which is complete and sound, prosperous, healthy, and fulfilled. The word occurs over 200 times in the O.T. In narrative books it typically is used to describe an absence of hostility or strife. In the psalms and the prophets it goes beyond this, so that in at least 2/3 of the biblical references the word indicates a total fulfillment that comes when persons experience God’s presence. Isa. 32:15–16 portrays both the inner peace and material prosperity that will mark the joyful fulfillment of man’s hopes under the rule of the Messiah, God’s Prince of Peace” (The Bible Readers Companion, electronic ed. S. 427).

The prophet Joel also foresees the future ministry of the Holy Spirit (Joel 2:28-32), and on the day of Pentecost Peter declares that his fellow Jews are witnessing the beginning of that prophecy’s fulfillment as the Spirit falls on followers of Christ and they proclaim the mighty works of God in the languages of the world (Acts 2:16-21).

A foreboding message is inserted in verse 19: “But hail will level the forest, and the city will sink into the depths.” Some commentators say this is a word of warning to the Assyrians and the city of Ninevah. The “hail” is the Lord’s wrathful visitation (Isa. 30:30). The “forest” is the Assyrian army that surrounds Jerusalem and will be destroyed (Isa. 10:18-19, 33-34). Other commentators indicate that the destruction in this passage belongs to Judah, either in the days of Sennacherib’s invasion (701 B.C.) or 115 years later when the Babylonians utterly destroy the capital city of Jerusalem. In any case, “the basic principle expounded in this poem is that peace is not a thing God superimposes on a corrupt society: the ground must be cleared and re-sown with righteousness, of which peace is the fruit” (D.A. Carson, New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, S. Is 32:9).

Closing Thought

Gary V. Smith comments: “The theological principle that Isaiah teaches is that true security and peace are by-products of righteous living, and righteous living is made possible through the gift of God’s Spirit and the rule of his just king. Security cannot be gained through human effort or the manipulation of a person’s circumstances, but it can be received as a gift because of the Spirit’s work in one’s life” (The New American Commentary: Isaiah 1-39, p. 548).

Copyright 2009 by Rob Phillips


Isaiah 27: Jacob’s Iniquity Will be Purged

Isaiah 27: Listen to an audio file

Isaiah 27: Download a worksheet for further study

Prologue

Where we are:

Part 1: Judgment

Part 2: Historical Interlude

Part 3: Salvation

Chapters 1-35

Chapters 36-39

Chapters 40-66

When this takes place:

Chapters 24-27 of Isaiah form a single prophecy. While it’s difficult to pinpoint the time in which this prophecy is given, it seems best to place it a short time before the attack by Sennacherib, king of Assyria, on Jerusalem in 701 B.C.

Key verse:

Isa. 27:9 – Therefore Jacob’s iniquity will be purged in this way, and the result of the removal of his sin will be this: when he makes all the altar stones like crushed bits of chalk, no Asherah poles or incense altars will remain standing.

Quick summary:

Isaiah looks ahead to the destiny of God’s ancient people. The Lord again will tend to His vineyard (see Isa. 5:1-5; 27:2-4), purge the people’s sins and return them to their land. Isaiah’s use of the ancestral name “Jacob” is a reference to all Jewish people.

Take note:

Isaiah refers to “leviathan” in verse 1 and calls him the “fleeing serpent … the twisting serpent … the monster that is in the sea.” The name means “twisting one” and is a mythological sea serpent or dragon associated with the chaos at creation. Sometimes the name is used of an animal such as the crocodile. “Leviathan” is referenced in other Old Testament passages – Job 3:8, 41:1; Ps. 74:14, 104:26 – and the context must help determine its meaning.

But why would Isaiah tell us God will “bring judgment” on this creature if he is only a mythological figure or an animal? In Ezek. 29:3, 32:2, Rev. 12:3 and elsewhere, wicked human leaders hostile to Israel are similarly described; “antitypically and ultimately Satan is intended (Rev 20:10)” (Robert Jamieson, A.R. Fausset, David Brown, A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments, S. Is 27:1). If these earthly leaders personify Satan and his evil intent toward mankind in general and Israel in particular, then both the human leaders and Satan ultimately will experience the wrath of God.

John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck provide deeper insight into Isaiah’s use of this word:

In Ugaritic literature (of Ugarit, a city-state in North Syria) reference is made to a similar seven-headed creature. Isaiah, though not believing this ancient Semitic myth, simply referred to Leviathan to convey his point (cf. Job 3:8). Leviathan, the twisting monster of the sea, was viewed in Ugaritic literature as an enemy of order in Creation. But the Lord can stop this chaotic state and establish order on the earth and in people’s hearts. When God’s judgment comes in that day, when He slays the wicked at the end of the Tribulation, it will be like His slaying the chaotic dragon Leviathan. (The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, S. 1:1075).

The Song of the Vineyard (Isa. 27:2-6)

Isaiah employs the phrase “on that day” four times in this chapter to highlight the Lord’s future dealings with Israel and her enemies. Yahweh will “bring judgment on Leviathan” (v. 1; cf. Rev. 20:1-3, 10); cause Israel to “blossom and bloom” (v. 6); gather His people (v. 12); and enable them to worship Him in Jerusalem (v. 13).

The vineyard in verses 2-6 symbolizes Israel, and there is an interesting contrast between the songs of the vineyard in Isa. 5:1-7 and Isa. 27:2-6. In the first song, Isaiah laments the destruction of the vineyard for its unfruitfulness. The second song, however, rejoices over the prospect of God’s protection and the vineyard’s ultimate abundance. Isaiah makes the point that the covenant-keeping Lord will do whatever is necessary to make Israel the nation through which He will bless the world (see Gen. 12:3). If the nation produces “thorns and briers” He will “burn it to the ground” (v. 4); surely His judgments against the northern kingdom at the hands of Assyria and the southern kingdom at the hands of Babylon are clear examples of the vineyard owner’s pruning capabilities. On the other hand, if His people “take hold of My strength” and “make peace with Me” (v. 5), He will cause Israel to “fill the whole world with fruit” (v. 6).

Warren Wiersbe offers this insight: “In Isaiah’s day, the vineyard was producing wild grapes; but in the future kingdom, Israel will be fruitful and flourishing…. The Bible speaks of three vines: the people of Israel (Isa. 5; 27), Christ and His church (John 15), and godless Gentile society, “the vine of the earth” (Rev. 14:18). The vineyard of Israel is not bearing fruit, the “vine of the earth” is filling the world with poisonous fruit, and God’s people must be faithful branches in the Vine and produce fruit that glorifies God’s name” (Be Comforted, S. Is 26:1).

Looking at this passage from a New Testament perspective, we can see how Jesus the Messiah blessed the whole world through His work on the cross (John 3:16-18; 1 Cor. 15:3-4; 1 John 2:2), and how, in His second coming, He will judge His enemies and gather before Him redeemed people of “every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9).

The Coming Judgment (Isa. 27:7-11)

Because the Lord loves His people He will punish them and purify them so they are fruitful. While judgment is about to fall on Judah, the Lord promises not to deal as harshly with her as he does with her enemies. He will use warfare and exile (Isa. 27:8) – certainly warfare with Assyria, and later warfare with and exile to Babylon. But if the result is that Judah relinquishes her idolatry, her hardship is not in vain. The terms “His severe storm” and “the east wind” (Isa. 27:8) may refer figuratively to Babylon, which lay to the east and would destroy Jerusalem in 586 B.C. “The Exile would help purify Judah so that she would not worship foreign gods and goddesses” (John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, S. 1:1076).

Israel would be driven out of her land because of her disobedience to the Law (Deut. 28:15-16, 25, 49-52). Evidence of her repentance would be the pulverizing of altar stones dedicated to false gods, and the removal of Asherah poles, wooden symbols of the Canaanite goddess of fertility. None of these pagan gods would be able to spare God’s people from seeing their nation defeated, their capital city ruined, and their land left desolate. Hungry calves would graze among Jerusalem’s rubble, stripping bark off trees for food. Women would cut off tree branches and use them to build fires. All of these are to be signs that the Lord is judging His people by temporarily withdrawing His compassion (v. 11).

The Regathering of Israel (Isa. 27:12-13)

But God’s anger will not burn forever against His people. He promises “on that day” to regather the Jews in their homeland. He will “thresh grain from the Euphrates River as far as the Wadi of Egypt” (v. 12). This probably means he will bring judgment upon these far-flung regions – Assyria, Babylon and Egypt – and draw His people back to Jerusalem and its surroundings. Verse 13 also may include Gentiles among the “lost” and “dispersed.” Certainly within a few generations of this prophecy, the Jews are released from captivity in Babylon. And in our generation we have witnessed the birth of the modern state of Israel. But the ultimate promise is that when Messiah returns to sit on the throne of David, Israel’s borders will be widened and all believers will dwell in the land God promised Abraham.

Closing Thought

Gary V. Smith comments: “This prophecy describes how God can make something beautiful and productive (the vineyard in 27:2-6) out of something that was quite hopeless (the vineyard in 5:1-7). The credit goes to God who cares and protects his vineyard, but the choice to produce good or sour grapes was the choice of the vines, the people of Israel. This second song reminds the reader that God has the ability to transform people into beautiful blossoming plants in spits of their former rebellion. He does not give up on rebellious people but loves them and by his grace gathers them to worship together at his temple (27:12-13). His wonderful grace is still available to those who remain in rebellion against him” (The New American Commentary: Isaiah 1-39, pp. 465-66).

Copyright 2009 by Rob Phillips

Isaiah 21: Babylon has Fallen

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Prologue

Where we are:

Part 1: Judgment

Part 2: Historical Interlude

Part 3: Salvation

Chapters 1-35

Chapters 36-39

Chapters 40-66

When this takes place:

Isaiah speaks these oracles against Babylon, Dumah (Edom) and Arabia during the reign of Hezekiah, who hopes that a Babylonian uprising will break the grip of the Assyrians. Unfortunately for Judah, the rebellion fails.

Key verse:

Isa. 21:4 – My heart staggers; horror terrifies me. He has turned my last glimmer of hope into sheer terror.

Quick summary:

Lawrence O. Richards writes, “Isaiah continues his predictions of judgments destined to soon strike contemporary nations. The prophet foresees the fall of pagan Babylon, not due to emerge as a dominant world power for yet another 100 years (21:1-10). He also prophesies briefly against Edom and Arabia, who will try futilely to resist Assyria’s power (vv. 11-17)” (The Bible Readers Companion, electronic ed., S. 422).

Take note:

Many commentators assume that this oracle predicts the fall of Babylon to the Medo-Persian Empire in 539 B.C. That future event will produce joy among the Jews because it will result in the end of their captivity. So why does Isaiah liken the fall of Babylon to a time of terror for the Jews? Because Isaiah’s focus is on the more immediate future. In 722 B.C., a Chaldean prince named Marduk-apal-iddina revolts against Assyria, captures Babylon and becomes its king. Hezekiah and his people are hopeful that this rebellion will break the stranglehold of the Assyrians in that part of the world. But by 705 B.C. Marduk-apal-iddina and his ally Elam will be defeated, and by 698 B.C. the area around the Persian Gulf will be destroyed. The Jews’ hopes will be dashed.

A Judgment on Babylon (Isa. 21:1-10)

Rather than introduce a well-known country like Egypt or Moab, this oracle is against the “desert by the sea” (v. 1), a reference to southern Babylon, known for its swampy marshes between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and the home of Marduk-apal-iddina (also known as Marodach-baladan). The invading army is depicted as a destructive desert storm, likely a reference to the Assyrian attack on Babylon around 689 B.C. Babylon’s neighbors, Media and Elam, are urged to attack the Assyrian forces to divert their attention from Babylon. The phrase, “I will put an end to all her groaning” (v. 2) possibly refers to the common people of Babylon who will finally experience rest from the attacks and counterattacks taking place in their country.

The strong emotional response in verses 3-4 likely is Isaiah’s gut-wrenching realization that Judah’s ally would meet a violent end, leaving Judah to defend herself against the Assyrians. Gary V. Smith writes, “He seems to be describing physical signs of cramps that brought him to his knees and a psychological astonishment that knocked the wind out of him. His heart stopped briefly and a horrendous thought brought great fear over him. He was hoping to enjoy a good night’s rest, but now God has turned this vision into a nightmare” (The New American Commentary: Isaiah 1-39, p. 372).

In verses 6-10 we are given the prophetic report of a watchman, sent by Isaiah at God’s command, to be on the lookout for any signs of battle between Babylon and Assyria. Day and night the watchman peers faithfully at the horizon and questions passers by. Finally the news arrives: “Babylon has fallen, has fallen. All the idols of her gods have been shattered on the ground” (v. 9). If the people of Judah trust in an alliance between King Hezekiah and Babylon’s Marduk-apal-iddina, hoping a Babylonian revolt will break Assyria’s domination over the region, they will be sorely disappointed. The words of the watchman bring Isaiah and the people to their knees. Isaiah reiterates that his message is from God (v. 10). He is only telling them what the Lord Almighty has revealed. The man from the “desert by the sea,” Marduk-apal-iddina, will fail. Judah must trust God, not the Babylonians, to save them.

An Oracle Against Dumah (Isa. 21:11-12)

This is a mysterious oracle. The name Dumah was given to one of Ishmael’s sons (Gen. 25:13-15), as were the names Kedar and Tema (mentioned in Isa. 21:13-16), so the name most likely as associated with an oasis in the northern part of the Arabian desert, northeast of Edom. This site is on the trade route from Mesopotamia to Edom, and traders passing through would bring news about what is happening in Babylon. Since little information is provided, it’s hard to determine when this oracle is given. Likely it is prior to 700 B.C. during the reign of Sargon or Sennacherib (which fits vv. 1-10), or a much later date when the Babylonian king Nabonidus conquers various tribes in the Arabian Desert (500-540 B.C.).

In any case, the message is clear. The people along the trade route closer to Assyria and Babylon want to know, “Watchman, what is left of the night?” When will all the bloodshed and oppression be over? The watchman, perhaps Isaiah himself, replies that morning is coming, but so is another evening. In other words, there will be a brief respite from warfare, and then more troubling times. Finally, the watchman tells the inquirer to ask again later, implying that more information has yet to be revealed.

It’s difficult to grasp the meaning of this oracle to Judah, especially since neither Judah nor God is mentioned. Gary V. Smith offers good insight: “If this prophecy came during the time when the Assyrian kings were oppressing Judah and Babylon (21:9-10), this news would give the people of Judah a general assurance that better days are ahead, but also warn them that these good times would be followed by more dark days. It is possible that Isaiah’s audience might conclude from these words that they must not expect that their alliance with Babylon will quickly solve all their problems with Assyria. The previous oracle tells why: Babylon will fall” (The New American Commentary: Isaiah 1-39, p. 377).

An Oracle Against Arabia (Isa. 21:13-17)

This oracle foretells the difficult times the people of Arabia would soon experience at the hands of the Assyrians. The Dedanites (v. 13) are from a tribe in southern Arabia. Tema (v. 14) is a well-known oasis in northwestern Arabia, and Kedar (v. 16) is in northern Arabia. Kedar is known for its distinctive black tents (Ps. 120:5; Song of Sol. 1:5; Jer. 49:28-29), but within one year the warriors of Kedar will experience a crushing defeat. The Arabians will become fugitives, running for their lives. In 715 B.C. Sargon writes that he has defeated a number of Arabian tribes and deported them to Samaria.

“The special significance of this oracle lies in its warning to the freest and most inaccessible of tribes that Assyria’s long arm will reach even them, at God’s command,” writes D.A. Carson. “Those of the far south, Tema and Dedan, will have to succour their more exposed brother-tribe of Kedar” (New Bible Commentary : 21st Century Edition, S. Is 21:13).

Closing Thought

This chapter informs the people of Judah that the entire Middle East, even the remote desert lands, will be in turmoil under the expansive political and military ambitions of the Assyrians. It’s a reminder to all God’s people that the Lord is sovereign over every nation and tribe, even those refusing to acknowledge Him, and that He directs human history toward its inevitable climax when Messiah comes in power and glory and rules the earth from David’s throne.

Rather than trusting in chariots and horses (Ps. 20:7), or in national alliances, we would do well to trust in God.

Copyright 2009 by Rob Phillips