Tagged: northern kingdom of Israel

Isaiah 17: Partners in Crime

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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 9: Prince of Peace, and Scorched Earth

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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:

Chapter 9 takes place during the reign of Ahaz, Judah’s wicked king. While Isaiah’s ministry focuses on the southern kingdom, this chapter speaks to the northern kingdom of Israel as well. Even though the Israelites will face the darkness of military defeat, the day is coming when they will see “great light” as the Messiah lives and ministers in Galilee.

Key verse:

Isa. 9:6:  For a child will be born for us, a son will be given to us, and the government will be on His shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.

Quick summary:

This chapter highlights God’s Son and God’s sovereignty. Verses 1-7 give us additional information about Immanuel (Isa. 7:14), who will be a gift from heaven, God incarnate, and a light to all people. Verses 8-21 describe the punishment God is about to inflict on His own people, even though their defeat at the hands of the Arameans and Philistines will not lead to repentance.

Take note:

Verse 6 is one of the clearest Old Testament passages affirming the deity and the humanity of the Messiah. He will be born a male child, yet is from age to age Mighty God and Eternal Father.

The Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:1-7)

The devastation of Israel at the hands of Assyria eventually will give way to an age of universal peace. In fact, the very lands about to experience darkness and death will be the first to see the light of a new day with the coming of the Messiah. As Matthew’s gospel makes clear, the region of Israel referred to in Isa. 9:1 is the first to rejoice in the light brought by Christ’s preaching (Matt. 4:12-17).

While Isa. 7:14 focuses on Messiah’s birth and 11:1-16 on His kingdom, verses 6-7 of chapter 9 lay great emphasis on His person. The first three titles imply deity:

  • The word “wonderful” as in “Wonderful Counselor” regularly means “supernatural” in scripture. See, for example, Judges 13:18. In addition, Isa. 28:29 describes Yahweh as “wonderful in counsel” (KJV).
  • “Mighty God” is a term ascribed to “the Lord, the Holy One of Israel” in Isa. 10:20-21.
  • “Everlasting Father” has no exact parallel but is significant. “Father signifies the paternal benevolence of the perfect Ruler over a people whom he loves as his children. Peace in Hebrew implies prosperity as well as tranquility” (D.A. Carson, New Bible Commentary, 21st Century Edition, S. Is 9:1). While Messiah is a distinct person from God the Father, Jesus clearly claims to be both Messiah and co-equal with the Father (John 10:30). “Father of Eternity” is a better translation, according to Warren Wiersbe. “Among the Jews, the word ‘father’ means ‘originator’ or ‘source.’ For example, Satan is the ‘father [originator] of lies’ (John 8:44, NIV). If you want anything eternal, you must get it from Jesus Christ; He is the ‘Father of eternity'” (Be Comforted, S. Is 9:1).

The fourth title, “Prince of Peace,” speaks to Messiah’s character. Luke 2:14, John 14:27, Acts 10:36, Rom. 5:1-10, and Eph. 2:14-18 are a few of the New Testament passages that point to Jesus as the One who brings peace to human hearts and to a sin-sick world. Matthew Henry comments: “As a King, he preserves the peace, commands peace, nay, he creates peace, in his kingdom. He is our peace, and it is his peace that both keeps the hearts of his people and rules in them” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 9:1).

Finally, verse 7 emphasizes the scope of Messiah’s kingdom. It will be vast and never-ending (see Dan. 7:14, 27; Micah 4:7; Luke 1:32-33; Rev. 11:15). He will maintain righteousness as His rule conforms to God’s holy character. “This will all be accomplished by the zeal of the Lord Almighty. The coming of the millennial kingdom depends on God, not Israel. The Messiah will rule because God promised it and will zealously see that the kingdom comes. Without His sovereign intervention there would be no kingdom for Israel” (John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, S. 1:1053).

God’s anger, Israel’s arrogance (Isa. 9:8-21)

The rest of the chapter warns that God is about to punish Israel at the hands of the Arameans and Philistines. Even though Israel will be destroyed, she will not repent and turn to the Lord. Lawrence O. Richards writes, “Isa. 9:6-7 describes the universal reign of the Messiah. Then the rest of the chapter suddenly shifts to describe the judgment about to be visited on the Northern Kingdom, Israel (vv. 8-21). How are these linked? Jesus’ reign is marked by universal allegiance to God. Israel’s tragic history was marked from the beginning by rebellion against Him (1 Kings 12). Those who will not submit to the Lord will surely experience not the blessing of messianic times, but the havoc and ruination that crushed Israel” (The Bible Readers Companion, Electronic edition, S. 417).

Verses 9-10 describe the arrogance with which the northern kingdom regards God’s wrath. Though their sun-dried bricks will not stand, the people plan to rebuild with more expensive and durable cut stones. And though sycamores are abundant and used for their antiseptic qualities, which induced the Egyptians to use sycamore to encase their mummies, the northern tribes boast that they will rebuild with the aromatic, knot-free, and more valuable cedar.

Verses 11-12 describe what is about to happen. The foes of Rezin, king of Aram and an ally of Israel, will consume the northern kingdom. Specifically, the foes are other Arameans and the Philistines. While this is the Lord’s doing, it does not bring Israel to repentance and therefore does not quench the wrath of God. Verse 12 ends with a refrain that is repeated three more times in the following verses: “In all this, His anger is not removed, and His hand is still raised to strike” (see Isa. 9:12, 17, 21; 10:4).

The words in verse 14 – “So the Lord cut off Israel’s head and tail, palm branch and reed” – comprise a merism, a figure of speech using opposite extremes to include the whole spectrum.  Verses 15-17 provide the needed detail. The elders (the head) and the false prophets (the tail), the leaders and those who are misled – even the fatherless and widows will reap judgment because “everyone is a godless evildoer” (v. 17).

Verses 18-21 describe the wickedness of God’s people as a consuming fire, with the people themselves as fuel. As God directs punishment against them, they are destroyed by enemies from without and rivals from within. “Ephraim’s own wickedness was destroying the nation, the way a fire destroys a forest or a field,” writes Warren W. Wiersbe. “But the sinners would become fuel for the fire God could kindle! In their greed, the people of the Northern Kingdom were devouring one another (v. 20) and battling one another (v. 21); but they would soon be devoured and defeated by Assyria” (Be Comforted, S. Is 9:1).

Closing Thought

Matthew Henry writes: “The reason why the judgments of God are prolonged is because the point is not gained, sinners are not brought to repentance by them. The people turn not to him that smites them, and therefore he continues to smite them; for when God judges he will overcome, and the proudest stoutest sinner shall either bend or break” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 9:8).

 Copyright 2008 by Rob Phillips

Isaiah 1: Judah on Trial

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Listen to part 2 of the audio

Prologue

Where we are:

Part 1: Judgment (Chapters 1-35)

When this takes place:

Opinions vary, but it appears that Chapter 1 is written near the end of Isaiah’s ministry and is placed at the start of the book as both an introduction and a summary. “This introduction is also a motivational attempt to convince [Isaiah’s] readers to acknowledge what God says and repent so that their sins can be forgiven” (Gary V. Smith, New American Commentary, Isaiah 1-39, p. 93). Possibly, this chapter is written some time after the 701 B.C. attack by the Assyrians.

Key verse:

Isa. 1:18: “Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the LORD, “Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They will be like wool” (NASB).

Quick summary:

“Chapter 1 is God’s solemn call to the universe to come into the courtroom to hear God’s charge against the nation Israel” (J. Vernon McGee, Isaiah Vol. 1, p. 17).

Take note:

Although Isaiah is identified as the prophet (v. 1), God is the source of the message. Note how God speaks throughout the chapter:

  • “the Lord has spoken” (v. 2).
  • “Hear the word of the Lord … listen to the instruction of our God” (v. 10).
  • “‘What are your sacrifices to Me?’ asks the Lord” (v. 11).
  • “‘Come now, and let us reason together,’ says the Lord” (v. 18).
  • “the mouth of the Lord has spoken” (v. 20).
  • “Therefore the Lord God of Hosts, the Mighty One of Israel, declares” (v. 24).

God’s case against Judah (Isa. 1:1-9)

Isaiah begins by telling us what we are about to encounter: one vision, concerning two locations (Judah and Jerusalem), delivered during the time of four kings (Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah). A powerful new nation has arisen to the north. Assyria is about to take the northern kingdom of Israel captive, and does so in 722. B.C. Later, God asserts that the brutal Assyrian invaders will not take Judah. Rather, He is raising up another kingdom, Babylon, to judge the southern kingdom, but until then He is giving Judah one more chance to repent. Isaiah’s book is called a vision, suggesting that the prophet “saw” mentally and spiritually as well as heard what God communicated to him. The word “vision” also introduces the prophecies of Obadiah, Micah, and Nahum. The term “vision” (hazon) frequently refers to the general reception of a divine revelation, without accompanying visual imagery; Isaiah’s use of the word “vision” implies that what he is about to say comes from God.

God calls heaven and earth into the courtroom to hear His case against Judah. The language in verse 2 is similar to the way Deut. 32 begins. Having delivered the Jews from Egyptian bondage, the Lord laid down the conditions under which His people would inhabit the Promised Land and called heaven and earth as witnesses. If they failed to obey God, especially by engaging in the worship of false gods, then Yahweh had the right to chasten them even to the point of removing them from the land. It was happening to Israel. Judah was next.

The Lord uses satire in verse 3. He tells the Jews that two of the dumber beasts of burden, oxen and donkeys, know their masters and understand who feeds them, but the Jews live in oblivion to the Lord’s providential care.

Verse 4 lays out God’s description of who the Jews are and what they have done. They are a sinful nation, a people weighed down with iniquity, a brood of evildoers, and depraved children. They have abandoned the Lord, despised the Holy One of Israel, and turned their backs on God.

God has been chastening Judah according to Deut. 28-29 and asks, “Why do you want more beatings? Why do you keep on rebelling?” (v. 5). Despite the Lord’s correction and gracious invitation to return to Him, the Jews will not repent, so the time for expulsion from the land is drawing nigh.

“Isaiah first used the figure of a person who had been beaten and was bruised over his entire body (Isa. 1:5-6). Though these untreated wounds … welts, and open sores characterized the nation’s spiritual condition, Isaiah was also speaking of her condition militarily. They were beset on all sides by hostile forces and were losing some of their territory to foreign nations (v. 7). They should have realized that these terrible problems had come because of their spiritual condition” (The Bible Knowledge Commentary).

Isaiah depicts Jerusalem’s inhabitants as being like a shelter in a vineyard or a shack in a cucumber field – temporary structures built to shade the sun from persons hired to guard the crops against animals and thieves. Such huts were solitary and easily attacked. If not for a remnant of faithful Jews, Isaiah says, Judah already would have become like Sodom and Gomorrah, totally devastated.

“I have had enough …” (Isa. 1:10-17)

From a human perspective, the Lord’s words in these verses convey exasperation with His people’s empty religious rituals. D.A. Carson comments, “Of all prophetic outbursts at religious unreality …this is the most powerful and sustained. Its vehemence is unsurpassed, even in Amos, and the form and content build up together. First, the offerings are rejected, then the offerers (11-12); but while God’s tone sharpens from distaste to revulsion, his specific accusation is held back to the lurid end of v 15: Your hands are full of blood” (New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, Section Is. 1:10).

The Lord is not abolishing, or even minimizing the importance of, the sacrificial system or the feasts by which His people could approach Him and enjoy His fellowship; rather, He is refuting their assumption that sacrifices and religious observances, without pure motives and repentant hearts, could atone for their sins.

Immediately following this thunderous rebuke are nine calls to repentance (vv. 16-17):

  • Wash yourselves.
  • Cleanse yourselves.
  • Remove your evil deeds from My sight.
  • Stop doing evil.
  • Learn to do what is good.
  • Seek justice.
  • Correct the oppressor.
  • Defend the rights of the fatherless.
  • Plead the widow’s cause.

J. Vernon McGee comments: “God has spelled out His charge against them. They are guilty of spiritual apostasy. It led to moral awfulness and to political anarchy in the nation. God has called Israel into court and has proved His charge against them. Israel is like a prisoner standing at the bar waiting for the sentence of judgment. God can now move in to judge them” (McGee, p. 25).

“Let us reason …” (Isa. 1:18-20)

While some see chapter 1 as a courtroom setting, it’s probably more accurate to see it as an arraignment, where the Lord states His case against His people, anticipates their defense and refutes it. Essentially, He tells Judah as well as all who witness His words that there is overwhelming evidence to secure a conviction. But rather than go through with a trial, conviction and sentencing, God gives the Jews a chance to settle their case out of court.

The term “let us reason” is sometimes rendered “enter a lawsuit” or “let us test each other,” but the basic meaning of the term is “to determine what is right.” Some translators favor the term “to settle out of court.” There is graciousness here on God’s part, as well as an opportunity for the Jewish people to “reach a settlement quickly” with their adversary (Matt. 5:25). The blessings of repentance and the curses of rebellion are clearly laid out: “If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good things of the land. But if you refuse and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword” (vv. 19-20).

God’s use of the word “scarlet” is significant. The Hebrew word means “double-dyed,” emphasizing the deep-fixed permanency of sin in the people’s hearts. But there is hope. The color of Jesus’ robe when bearing our sins was scarlet (see Matt. 27:28). So was the color of the cord that spared the life of Rahab and her family (Josh. 2:18), as was the color of the thread tied to the scapegoat. The rabbis say that after the high priest confessed his sins and the people’s sins over the scapegoat, the thread turned white. The miracle ceased, they say, 40 years before the destruction of Jerusalem, coinciding with the crucifixion of Christ (Jamieson, Fausset, Brown, Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments, Isaiah 1:18).

“I … will burn away your dross” (Isa. 1:21-31)

Verses 21-26 describe a theological cycle for Jerusalem. First, the city was faithful (v. 21a). Now it is in rebellion (vv. 21b-23). God will purge the evil from Jerusalem with His refining fire (vv. 24-25). Finally, the city will return to its faithfulness (v. 26). God compares Jerusalem in its faithfulness to silver and wine but says the silver is now dross and the wine is diluted with water. Sin has been welcomed into the city and into the hearts of its inhabitants and has corrupted both. The Lord spares no rebuke when he calls the leaders rebels, friends of thieves, and lovers of graft (v. 23).

Therefore, God is determined to purify the city. He will satisfy His holiness (v. 24b), remove impurity (v. 25), and restore His city (v. 26). His promise to Jerusalem is an encouragement to faithful believers everywhere and at all times when they suffer through life at the hands of sinful and selfish leaders. Gary V. Smith writes, “A day will soon come when God will transform this world, remove all sin, replace all evil leaders, and rule his kingdom in righteousness and justice. This passage is also a warning to every leader. You will be held accountable for how you lead the people God has called you to serve” (p. 114).

Closing thought

Isaiah argues that God deals with sin in one of two ways. He removes the stain of sin if His people repent (1:18-19), or he removes the sinner with His refining fire so His nation is purified (1:25-27). Does Judah repent? No, and as a result, she is carried away into Babylonian captivity a century later. Will we as God’s people repent of our sins or face chastisement? That is the fundamental question that nations and people must continue to answer.

Copyright 2008 by Rob Phillips