Tagged: Damascus

Isaiah 17: Partners in Crime

Listen to an audio file (2.15.09)

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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:

The oracle in chapter 17 describes the fall of Damascus and the fortified cities of Ephraim (the northern kingdom of Israel). The events described in this chapter belong to the period of the Syro-Ephraimite War (734-732 B.C.), when Judah’s king Ahaz asks the Assyrian King Tiglath-pileser III to rescue him from the attacks of Syria and Ephraim.

Key verse:

Isa. 17:10a For you have forgotten the God of your salvation, and you have failed to remember the rock of your strength.

Quick summary:

J. Vernon McGee writes: “Because of the confederacy between Syria and Israel (often for the purpose of coming against Judah), Israel is linked with the judgments pronounced on Syria. Partners in crime means partners in judgment” (Isaiah Volume 1, p.137).

Take note:

Despite harsh words and a bleak outlook for Israel, the Lord reminds His people of His purpose in judgment – so they will “look to their Maker and will turn their eyes to the Holy One of Israel. They will not look to the altars they made with their hands or to the Asherahs and incense alters they made with their fingers” (Isa. 17:7b-8).

Prophecy Against Damascus (Isa. 17:1-3)

The northern kingdom of Israel (also called Ephraim) and Damascus, the capital of Syria (or Aram), have joined forces against Judah. For this they will suffer together. Both will be besieged and deported by Assyria (see 2 Kings 15:29; 17:6). The Assyrians conquer Aram in 732 B.C. and, according to their custom, deport many of the citizens, leaving the cities deserted and the land untended. They also likely burn the houses and demolish the fortifications, leaving the capital city a “ruined heap” (v. 1).

Isaiah also says the cities of Aroer, a Syrian province, are forsaken. “God is righteous in causing those cities to spue out their inhabitants, who by their wickedness had made themselves vile; it is better that flocks should lie down there than that they should harbour such as are in open rebellion against God and virtue” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 17:1).

The Syrians are the ringleaders in the confederacy against Judah, so they are punished first and most harshly. The glory of Israel will be no comfort to the Syrian survivors.

Judgment Against Israel (Isa. 17:4-11)

Now Isaiah turns his attention to Syria’s ally, Ephraim. He uses several graphic images to describe the northern kingdom’s imminent downfall: the fading splendor of Jacob (v. 4a); the emaciation of a sick person (v. 4b); the gleaning of a small harvest (vv. 5-6); the abandonment of woods and mountain peaks (v. 9); and the sudden decay of a garden (v. 11). On that day the people will come to their senses and realize that their idols cannot save them. They will turn to their Maker, but it will be too late (v. 7; see also Prov. 1:20-33). In 722 B.C., Assyria sweeps into the northern kingdom, and she is no more.

Warren Wiersbe comments:

The emphasis in this section is on the God of Israel. He is the Lord of hosts (the Lord Almighty), who controls the armies of heaven and earth (Isa. 17:3). He is the Lord God of Israel (v. 6), who called and blessed Israel and warned her of her sins. He is our Maker, the Holy One of Israel (v. 7); He is the God of our salvation and our Rock (v. 10). How foolish of the Israelites to trust their man-made idols instead of trusting the living God (v. 8; 1 Kings 12:25-33). But like Israel of old, people today trust the gods they have made, instead of the God who made them; these include the false gods of pleasure, wealth, military might, scientific achievement, and even “religious experience” (Be Comforted, S. Is 17:1).

Isaiah’s words are echoed in Paul’s letter to the Romans more than 700 years later. Though the Asherah poles used to worship the Canaanite fertility goddess are no longer standing, the first-century world still clung to idols: “For though they knew God, they did not glorify

Him as God or show gratitude. Instead, their thinking became nonsense, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man, birds, four-footed animals, and reptiles” (Rom. 1:21-23).

Judgment Against the Nations (Isa. 17:12-14)

These verses spell out the consequences for those who plunder the people of God. Even though God uses surrounding nations to judge Israel, he holds them accountable for their actions and brings them to justice. This passage seems especially to take aim at Assyria, which, after aligning itself with Judah, invades it unsuccessfully. As Matthew Henry writes, “If the Assyrians and Israelites invade and plunder Judah, if the Assyrian army take God’s people captive and lay their country waste, let them know that ruin will be their lot and portion” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary, S. Is 17:12).

The Assyrian army is diverse, made up of many nations. What’s more, its soldiers are noisy and boastful, “like the roaring of the seas … like the raging of mighty waters” (v. 12). They make boisterous threats in order to frighten their enemies into submission and prevent surrounding nations from coming to their enemies’ defense. But God will punish them, scattering them “like chaff on the hills, and like dead thistles before a gale” (v. 13). “How appropriate that though Assyria brought terror in the evening, the enemy would be gone before morning, for such was the case with the Assyrian army (37:36-37). Though the Assyrian soldiers had plundered many cities of Judah, 185,000 soldiers were slaughtered over night” (John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary : An Exposition of the Scriptures, S. 1:1065).

Closing Thought

Matthew Henry comments: “It was in the night that the angel routed the Assyrian army. God can in a moment break the power of his church’s enemies, even when it appears most formidable; and this is written for the encouragement of the people of God in all ages, when they find themselves an unequal match for their enemies; for this is the portion of those that spoil us, they shall themselves be spoiled. God will plead his church’s cause, and those that meddle do it to their own hurt” (S. Is 17:12).

Copyright 2009 by Rob Phillips

Isaiah 8: Prepare for War, and be Broken

Listen to a brief introduction of Isaiah 8

Download a free 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:

Chapter 8 takes place during Ahaz’s reign, after Assyria has defeated Aram and Israel. This should have prompted Judah to turn to God, but instead Ahaz orders his priests to conform their temple worship to the practices of the pagans in Damascus.

Key verse:

Isa. 8:13:  You are to regard only the Lord of Hosts as holy. Only He should be feared; only He should be held in awe.

Quick summary:

The armies of Assyria are about to pour into Judah, flooding the nation up to its very head, Jerusalem. The people are instructed to abandon their fear of men like Rezin of Aram and Pekah of Israel, who terrorize Ahaz but soon will be dead, and instead put their trust in God, who will be a refuge to those who turn to Him.

Take note:

Isaiah describes the Lord as a sanctuary for those who trust in Him, but “a stone to stumble over and a rock to trip over” for those who persist in rebellion against Him (v. 14). Peter quotes a portion of this passage, referring to those who reject Jesus as Messiah (1 Peter 2:8), as does Paul in Rom. 9:33.

Damascus and Samaria fall (Isa. 8:1-8)

Isaiah is instructed to write on a large scroll the name of a son who would be born to him and his wife. The son’s name is announced even before he is conceived to emphasize the certainty of his birth and the inevitability of the national calamity his name describes. Maher-shalal-hash-baz is the longest personal name in the Bible. It means “quick to the plunder, swift to the spoil.” Soldiers are known to shout these words to one another as they sweep down on their defeated foes. Remembering the prophecy of the fall of the Aram-Israel alliance (Isa. 7:4-9), Isaiah’s listeners understand the significance of his son’s name as they watch for the imminent defeat of Judah’s neighbors.

Isaiah’s wife is called “the prophetess” either because she is the wife of a prophet or because, like Isaiah, God has gifted her with prophetic abilities. The Bible does not record any instances in which she prophesies, although some commentators believe this is the best interpretation of her descriptive name. In less than two years – nine months for the pregnancy and about one year of the child’s infancy – Assyria will plunder Damascus (Aram’s capital) and Samaria (Israel’s capital). Many scholars say this happened in 732 B.C., indicating that Isaiah’s prophecy is given in 734 B.C. When the alliance falls, Judah should turn to the Lord, as Isaiah urges. Instead, one of the two witnesses (v. 2), Uriah the priest, follows Ahaz’s orders and changes the temple worship to conform to the pagan practices of Damascus.

The term “these people” in verse 6 could refer to Judah, which rejects God and will come to experience the brutality of Assyria. More likely, however, the phrase describes the northern kingdom, which turns its back on Judah – “the slowly flowing waters of Shiloah” may be a reference to Jerusalem – in favor of an alliance with Aram. As a result, “the mighty rushing waters” of Assyria will sweep through the northern kingdom and ultimately destroy Judah as well.

A believing remnant (Isa. 8:9-22)

Though Judah almost would be defeated by the Assyrian invasion, Isaiah urges the people not to be afraid because they will experience victory. John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck comment: “The great truth of chapters 7-9 is that God was with Judah…. Even though the nations would raise a war cry and prepare for battle against Judah, they would not succeed. They would be shattered, a fact stated three times in verse 9 for emphasis…. Because God has promised to be with His people they were to have faith in Him no matter how bad their circumstances” (The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, S. 1:1051).

Despite God’s promise, many in Judah refuse to trust in Him, and the Lord warns Isaiah not to be like them (v. 11). The Lord will be a sanctuary for those who believe in Him, but “a stone to stumble over and a rock to trip over, and a trap and a snare” to those who reject Him (v. 14). Peter quotes a portion of this verse, referring to those who reject the Messiah (1 Peter 2:8). This is a subtle but important reference to the deity of Christ and the unity of the triune Godhead. Along these lines, it is interesting to note that Heb. 2:13 ascribes the words in Isa. 8:17c-18a to Christ. While the immediate context indicates that Isaiah is speaking these words and referring to the children God has given him as signs, in the larger context Jesus (Immanuel / God with us) has placed these messages on Isaiah’s lips. Perhaps more important, since Jesus is the eternal Son of God who took on human flesh, the writer of Hebrews points to the common humanity Christ now shares with those who trust in Him.

For Isaiah to “bind up the testimony” and “seal up the instruction,” he is reaffirming his dependence on God and inscribing His word on the hearts of His followers. D.A. Carson calls verses 16-18 “a kernel of immense promise. With the expression my disciples, God introduces a new definition of his people and their relation to him…. Isaiah’s responsive faith (17) speaks for such, and the little group of v 18 is seen in Heb. 2:13 as typical of the church gathered around Christ” (New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, S. Is 8:16).

These disciples stand in stark contrast to the people described in verses 19-22. They practice what God prohibits (see Deut. 18:9-12). Instead of prophets, they seek out mediums. Instead of teaching, they embrace gibberish. And instead of the living, they desire guidance from the dead. No wonder there will be “no dawn for them” (v. 20). An interesting side note about the spiritists (necromancers) who “chirp” in verse 19: Faint chirping, as of birds, generally is ascribed to departed spirits in biblical times. By ventriloquism soothsayers would cause these sounds to emerge from the grave. Basically, it is all smoke and mirrors. That may be the reason the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, translates the word “spiritists” in this verse as “ventriloquists.”

The result of all this, according to Isaiah, is that the people who reject God’s message will end up wandering, dejected and hungry. Rather then acknowledge the error of their ways, they will look up and curse their king and their God, a response that foreshadows the reaction of the Antichrist’s followers to the judgments of God in the last days (Rev. 16:11). Ultimately, those who reject God see “only distress, darkness, and the gloom of affliction (v. 22).

Closing Thought

Gary V. Smith comments:

These negative experiences teach a positive lesson. People need to pay attention to God’s revealed will and follow it, as Isaiah and his followers did. This obedience leads to a faithful relationship of respect and awe before the presence of a holy God, as well as hopeful waiting for God to act and confident assurance in his plan (8:17). Temptations to follow the false messages of proud political leaders, secular materialistic philosophies, and misguided religious leaders will be less attractive when people put them under the scrutiny of divine truth (8:20) (The New American Commentary: Isaiah 1-39, pp. 232-33).

Copyright 2008 by Rob Phillips