Tagged: Lord of Hosts

Isaiah 18: Left for the Birds of Prey

Listen to an audio file (2.22.09)

Download two worksheets for further study: Worksheet No. 1; Worksheet No. 2

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 18 likely occurs during the reign of Judah’s king Ahaz, or perhaps during the reign of his son Hezekiah. In any case, the oracle is given prior to Assyria’s invasion of Judah in 701 B.C.

Key verse:

Isa. 18:7 – At that time a gift will be brought to the Lord of Hosts from a people tall and smooth-skinned, a people feared near and far, a powerful nation with a strange language, whose land is divided by rivers-to Mount Zion, the place of the name of the Lord of Hosts.

Quick summary:

The land of Cush is told not to move frantically by boat or other means to secure alliances against Assyria, for the Lord will deal directly with the Assyrians and leave their corpses to the birds of prey.

Take note:

Cush, or Ethiopia in many translations, consists of modern-day southern Egypt, the Sudan and northern Ethiopia. Isaiah calls it the “land of buzzing insect wings” (v. 1), not only because of the locusts and other insects that infest the land (like the tsetse fly and winged beetle), but because of the frantic diplomatic activity taking place as envoys from Cush seek alliances to protect them from Assyria. Cush rules Egypt from 715 – 663 B.C.

The Lord’s Message to Cush (Isa. 18:1-7)

In verse 2, Isaiah depicts the ambassadors of Cush making haste in their light, swift boats to seek alliances against Assyria. “Papyrus was used on the Nile for making boats,” according to Manners and Customs of the Bible. “Sometimes bundles of the plant were rudely bound together in the form of a raft. At other times the leaves were plaited like a basket and then coated with bitumen and tar after the boat was constructed. Similar boats were used on the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. The boats were circular in shape, and sometimes covered with leather instead of bitumen” (James M. Freeman and Harold J. Chadwick, S. 352).

Some commentators believe that at the time of this prophecy, envoys from Cush are in Jerusalem, seeking an alliance for mutual protection from Assyria. If so, Isaiah tells the diplomats to go home, and He invites the whole world to witness what God is about to do. No alliances among nations are sufficient to defeat the terrifying Assyrians, and none are needed, for the Lord is about to cut them down like ripened vines (v. 5).

The birds and wild beasts will feast on the corpses of the Assyrian soldiers for an extended period of time (v. 6). Keep in mind that the Assyrians first are used of God to punish the northern kingdom of Israel by taking the people captive. But once that is accomplished (in 722 B.C.), God turns His chastening rod against the proud Assyrians. On the hills surrounding Jerusalem, and about to sweep victoriously into the southern kingdom’s capital city, 185,000 Assyrians are struck down by God in a single night (Isa. 37:36). No army, and no alliance of nations, may take credit for this stunning turn of events; it is exclusively the work of the Lord of Hosts. See Rev. 19:17-21, where a similar image is used of end-time judgment.

After the Assyrian defeat, the Lord will prompt the people of Cush to bring gifts to the Lord on Mount Zion, where His name dwells (see Deut. 12:5). Whether this is immediately after the Assyrian defeat, or simply a preview of what will occur during the millennium, is not clear (see Zech. 14:16), but certainly the nations will stream to Mount Zion after Messiah establishes His kingdom on earth (Isa. 2:1-4).

Closing Thought

Gary V. Smith writes in The New American Commentary: Isaiah 1-39 that this chapter features two theological principles that apply to every nation: “First, people should not allow their attention to be sidetracked to focus on human accomplishments, religious ritual, or man-made theological idols, for that will bring God’s judgment. Second, people should pay attention to God their Creator, remember that he is holy, is able to save them, and can protect them in times of trouble. No one today should repeat the mistakes of Israel and Judah, unless they want to suffer the same fate” (p. 352).

Copyright 2009 by Rob Phillips

Isaiah 2: A Day of Reckoning

Listen to the audio file

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:

Some commentators believe this chapter was written during the reign of Jotham or Ahaz because of the description of Judah in verses 6-8. But it may be better to consider King Uzziah’s reign, which was noted for its prosperity, power and pride. More specifically, Isaiah’s sermons in chapters 2-12 likely happened some time after the Syro-Ephraimite War in 734-32 B.C. In any case, this prophecy was given during the early years of Isaiah’s ministry.

Key verse:

Isa. 2:12: For the LORD of hosts will have a day of reckoning against everyone who is proud and lofty and against everyone who is lifted up, that he may be abased. (NASB)

Quick summary:

The Lord will establish His kingdom on earth in “the last days,” and will executive judgment in a “day of reckoning.”

Take note:

It’s clear that chapter 2 addresses the future, particularly the last days. Note how Isaiah identifies this time:

  • “the last days” (v. 2)
  • “on that day” (v. 11)
  • “a day belonging to the Lord of Hosts is [coming]” (HCSB) / “the Lord of Hosts will have a day of reckoning” (NASB) (v. 12)
  • “the Lord alone will be exalted on that day” (v. 17)
  • “On that day” (v. 20)
  • “when He rises to terrify the earth” (v. 21)

 

The city of peace (Isa. 2:1-4)

The first four verses of this chapter describe a future day in which a final and lasting peace comes to the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem. At least two things are clear: God is the One who establishes and maintains this lasting peace, and He does it in “the last days,” or, from a New Testament perspective, in the days encompassing the first and second comings of Christ.

The term “last days” is used at least 13 times in the Bible (HCSB) and describes the final period of the world as we know it. In the Old Testament, the last days are anticipated as the age of Messianic fulfillment (Isa. 2:2; Micah 4:1), while the New Testament writers consider themselves living in the last days – the era of the gospel (Acts 2:17; Heb. 1:2). “The last days, then, are the days of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. They are preliminary to and preparatory for the last day of final judgment of unbelievers and the dawn of eternal glory for believers” (Tyndale Bible Dictionary, p. 800).

Gary V. Smith adds a cautionary note: “The phrase ‘in the last days’ cannot be associated with the millennium or with the church age in Isaiah’s thinking, because such concepts were not known to the prophet. He is simply talking about the last events in human history, when the kingdom of God would begin. New Testament readers must be careful not to read later NT information back into earlier texts and make them say things that God did not reveal to the prophets” (The New American Commentary: Isaiah 1-39, p. 129).

The plural use of “days” implies a sustained length of time. While those living in Old Testament times may have viewed the coming Messianic age as singular and continuous, New Testament revelation shows us that the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah are to be fulfilled in two stages. First, Messiah will come as the Suffering Servant (Isa. 53), or Lamb of God (John 1:29). Then He will return one day as the Lion of Judah to defeat the wicked and establish His earthly kingdom (Rev. 19:11 – 20:6).

Isaiah’s reference to the “mountain of the Lord” (v. 2) points to His kingdom, authority or rule. One day the kingdoms of men will become the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15:24). Isaiah also draws an analogy between the kingdom of God and the Temple on Mount Moriah, which towers above the countryside in Isaiah’s day. The kingdom of God will rise above, overshadow, and nullify the arrogant, warring and fleeting kingdoms of men. The prophet Daniel makes reference to these days when interpreting Nebuchadnezzar’s vision of the statue, which symbolized earthly kingdoms: “Then the iron, the fired clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold were shattered and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors. The wind carried them away, and not a trace of them could be found. But the stone that struck the statue became a great mountain and filled the whole earth” (Dan. 2:35; emphasis mine).

The Lord Himself will settle disputes between nations. Ruling in majesty, power, justice and wisdom, He will so change the nature of worldly authority that people will “turn their swords into plows and their spears into pruning knives” … “and they will never again train for war” (v. 4). These opening verses of chapter 2 are almost identical to Micah 4:1-5.

 

The Day of the Lord (Isa. 2:5-22)

Verse 12 warns that a day of reckoning is coming. Various translations describe it as:

  • “a day belonging to the Lord of Hosts” (HCSB)
  • “the day of the Lord” (KJV)
  • “a day of reckoning” (NASB)
  • “a day against all that is proud and lofty” (ESV)
  • “a day in store” (NIV)

“The day of the Lord” is different from the previous reference to “the last days.” Specifically, it refers to God’s supernatural intervention in human history, usually with reference to events that will take place at the end of time. “Most often,” according to Wilmington’s Bible Handbook, “it relates to the Tribulation preceding the return of Christ” (Isa. 2:12).

Isaiah catalogues the reasons God has abandoned His people:

  • They have adopted religious superstitions from their neighbors (v. 6).
  • They have formed national alliances for strength rather than relying on God (v.6).
  • They have accumulated wealth and built up huge armaments rather than trusting God for their provision (v. 7).
  • And they have embraced idolatry, worshiping the creature rather than Creator (v. 8; see also Rom. 1:25).

Since Israel has made itself look and act like the heathen nations around it, God will judge Israel in a manner appropriate for the heathen. It’s likely that Isaiah does not see the lengthy time frame of repeated judgment, stretching out more than two millennia into the future, yet he is clear that Judah has been sufficiently rebellious to attract God’s wrath now. “The Lord alone,” he proclaims, “will be exalted on that day” (v. 11). He will break down the arrogance of all people, specifically:

  • “cedars” and “oaks” – a reference to haughty nobles and princes (v. 13; see also Amos 2:9; Zech. 11:2).
  • “high mountains” and “lofty hills” – an image of government and society (v. 14).
  • “every high tower” and “every fortified wall” – a picture of military might (v. 15).
  • “every ship of Tarshish” and “every splendid sea vessel” – a reference to commerce (v. 16).
  • “human pride” and “the loftiness of men” (v. 17).
  • “idols” (v. 18).

While these appear to be figurative references, it’s probable that the people of Judah in Uzziah’s day literally took pride in their fortified cities, tall towers, large ships and beautiful trees.

There is a parallel in Rev. 6:15-17 to how the wicked are seen responding to God’s wrath in Isa. 2:19-21:  “Then the kings of the earth, the nobles, the military commanders, the rich, the powerful, and every slave and free person hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains. And they said to the mountains and to the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of the One seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb, because the great day of Their wrath has come! And who is able to stand?'” Just as God will bring judgment on His people for their rebellion in Isaiah’s day – through the Assyrian and Babylonian empires – the Lord Himself will execute judgment directly on the whole earth on “the last day.”

 

Closing thought

There is hope for Judah in Isaiah’s day, as there is for us today. “Come and let us walk in the Lord’s light,” the prophet urges in verse 5, adding in verse 22, “Put no more trust in man, who has only the breath in his nostrils. What is he really worth?”

Gary V. Smith summarizes: “This sermon provides two unmistakable theological choices to any reader/listener. One can follow the path of proud leaders like Uzziah, or a person can ‘stop trusting in man’ now and exalt God alone. The theological choice is clear and presented as two opposite alternatives with two opposite consequences: life with God in his glorious kingdom (2:1-5), or frightful humiliation and destruction (2:6-22). There is no middle ground for people to hide” (Smith, p. 142).

Copyright 2008 by Rob Phillips