Tagged: prophet

Isaiah 56: Israel’s Blind Watchmen

LISTEN to PODCAST: Isaiah 56 – Israel’s Blind Watchmen

READ: Isaiah 56 – Notes

STUDY: Isaiah 56 – Worksheet

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 56 is part of the second major section of Isaiah and deals less with Judah’s immediate plight than with its future deliverance from Babylonian exile and ultimate glory.

Key verses:

Isa. 56:10-11 – Israel’s watchmen are blind, all of them, they know nothing; all of them are mute dogs, they cannot bark; they dream, lie down, and love to sleep. These dogs have fierce appetites; they never have enough. And they are shepherds who have no discernment; all of them turn to their own way, every last one for his own gain.

Quick summary:

Chapter 56 begins the final section of the book of Isaiah. While chapters 40-55 survey the Babylonian exile and speak of redemption largely in terms of a Jewish homecoming, chapters 56-66 focus on the homeland, which is seen partly as a place of corruption (Isa. 56:9 – 59:15a) and devastation (Isa. 63:7 – 64:12), but also as a place of restoration and beauty when touched by the Lord’s hand (Isa. 60-62). “The final chapters (65–66), like the prelude (56:1–8), show God’s welcome of the outsider and the heathen to his holy mountain and eternal kingdom, but press home the peril of an everlasting exclusion from these glories” (D.A. Carson, New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, 4th ed., S. Is 55:6). Specifically, chapter 56 contrasts God’s grace and man’s wickedness, as evidenced in the lives of Judah’s leaders.

Take note:

The Gentiles who believe will be included in God’s blessings for Israel. The Gentiles’ inclusion in God’s plan for worldwide blessing is addressed in many passages of Scripture, for example:

  • Gen. 12:3: I will bless those who bless you, I will curse those who treat you with contempt, and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you.
  • Acts 15:16-18: After these things I will return and will rebuild David’s tent, which has fallen down. I will rebuild its ruins and will set it up again, so that those who are left of mankind may seek the Lord – even all the Gentiles who are called by My name, says the Lord who does these things, which have been known from long ago (quoting Amos 9:11-12; Isa. 45:21).
  • Gal. 3:6-9: Just as Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him for righteousness, so understand that those who have faith are Abraham’s sons. Now the Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith and foretold the good news to Abraham, saying, All the nations will be blessed in you. So those who have faith are blessed with Abraham, who had faith.
  • Eph.3:4-6: By reading this you are able to understand my insight about the mystery of the Messiah. This was not made known to people in other generations as it is now revealed to His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: the Gentiles are co-heirs, members of the same body, and partners of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

A House of Prayer (Isa. 56:1-8)

Isaiah begins the chapter with a command from the Lord to live righteously “for My salvation is coming soon, and My righteousness will be revealed” (v. 1). The word “salvation” may be seen here as both spiritual deliverance (from idolatry and other sins) and physical protection (from the Assyrians now and from extinction during Babylonian exile later). While salvation always has been a work of God’s grace, the Jews are exhorted to live righteously as an acknowledgement of their special relationship with Yahweh. Since the Sabbath is a sign of Israel’s covenant with the Lord, keeping the Sabbath signifies belief in the covenant and trust in the covenant-keeping God (v. 2). In a similar manner, our good works as Christians are the natural response to God’s work of grace in our lives and are intended to bring glory to God (Matt. 5:16; Eph. 2:10).

In verses 3-5 the Lord reminds believing Gentiles that they have a part in His salvation and a place in His kingdom. God’s intention always has been to redeem people “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9). Equally gracious is God’s promise to eunuchs who, under the Law, are excluded from the full rights and privileges of citizenship (Deut. 23:1). The reason for their segregation is that their parents have deliberately mutilated them for the purpose of serving in the palaces of kings and noblemen. Such a focus on status and cultural extremes would serve to take their eyes off Yahweh and prevent them from having children who would honor the one true and living God. Though the eunuchs are not at fault for their parents’ actions, the consequences are a reminder to all Jews not to allow foreign beliefs and practices to influence them. Eunuchs, however, are never excluded from God’s salvation, and the Lord adds to spiritual deliverance the promise of full citizenship in the Messianic kingdom, including “a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters” (v. 5).

Foreigners who “love the Lord’s name” will be regathered along with believing Israelites. They demonstrate their belief in Yahweh by serving Him and honoring His covenant with Israel. It should not be overlooked in this passage that Gentiles are invited to observe the Sabbath along with the Jews. Warren W. Wiersbe explains: “God never before asked the Gentiles to join the Jews in keeping the Sabbath, but here He does so. He calls the very people He prohibited from entering His covenant nation: foreigners and eunuchs (Deut. 23:1–8). This is another picture of the grace of God (see Acts 8:26ff). The invitation is still, ‘Ho, everyone! Come!’ It applies to sinners today, but it will apply in a special way when Israel enters her kingdom, the temple services are restored, and the Sabbath is once again a part of Jewish worship” (Be Comforted, An Old Testament Study, S. Is 55:1).

In the future, the Lord will bring Jews and Gentiles alike to His holy mountain, where they will rejoice in His house of prayer. There, they will offer burnt offerings and sacrifices on His altar. But a question arises: If this promise points to the Millennium, which comes well after Messiah’s sacrifice on the cross, why are animal sacrifices necessary, or even appropriate? One possible explanation is that these are not blood sacrifices, but spiritual ones. The apostle Paul, for example, exhorts us as Christians to present our bodies as living sacrifices that are holy and pleasing to God; this is our “spiritual worship” (Rom. 12:1).  The writer of Hebrews tells us to “offer up a sacrifice of praise” (Heb. 13:15). And Peter reminds us that we are “living stones … built into a house for a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5). In this case, the Lord’s “altar” could be a reference to the cross, where the Old Testament sacrifices are fulfilled and done away with and which sanctifies our sacrifices of prayer and praise.

Another possible explanation is that God will reinstitute the sacrificial system as a memorial to His Son, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). The shed blood of innocent animals will serve as a reminder of the penalty for sin and the great price Jesus paid to redeem us from our sins. In either case, the focus of this promise is that redeemed people from across the world will gather in Jerusalem and worship the Lord.

Sleeping Watchmen (Isa. 56:9-12)

While much of chapters 49-57 offer a glimpse of Israel’s future glory, the closing verses of this chapter and all of chapter 57 describe the spiritual situation in Isaiah’s day and serve as a condemnation of the nation’s wicked. In verse 9, the “animals of the field and forest” are invited to “come and eat!” This is a call to the Gentile nations – Babylon in particular – to devour Israel as punishment for her spiritual stupor. Israel’s “watchmen” – the priests and other religious leaders – are described as “blind” and “ignorant.” They are ravenous dogs who love to eat and sleep, yet as mute beasts are unable to sound a warning of approaching danger. The leaders also are depicted as shepherds with no discernment, acting like the very sheep they are supposed to lead. Concerned only with their own comfort, they drink wine, guzzle beer and tell themselves the future is bright.

Warren Wiersbe comments: “Spiritual leaders are ‘watchmen’ (Ezek. 3:17–21; 33:1–11) who must be awake to the dangers that threaten God’s people. They are ‘shepherds’ who must put the care of the flock ahead of their own desires. When the foreign invaders (‘beasts of the field’) come, the shepherds must protect the flock, no matter what the danger might be. See Acts 20:18–38 for the description of a faithful spiritual ministry” (Be Comforted, S. Is 56:9).

Closing Thought

Matthew Henry writes: “[W]hy are the dogs set to guard the sheep if they cannot bark to waken the shepherd and frighten the wolf? Such were these; those that had the charge of souls never reproved men for their faults, nor told them what would be in the end thereof, never gave them notice of the judgments of God that were breaking in upon them. They barked at God’s prophets, and bit them too, and worried the sheep, but made no opposition to the wolf or thief…. They loved their ease, and hated business, were always sleeping, lying down and loving to slumber. They were not overcome and overpowered by sleep, as the disciples, through grief and fatigue, but they lay down on purpose to invite sleep … It is bad with a people when their shepherds slumber (Nah. 3:18), and it is well for God’s people that their shepherd, the keeper of Israel, neither slumbers nor sleeps” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 56:9).

Isaiah 39: Nothing Left

Isaiah 39: Nothing Left (audio)

Isaiah 39: Nothing Left (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:

It appears the visit from Merodach-baladan of Babylon occurs in 701 B.C., after Hezekiah’s illness and recovery but before the siege of Sennacherib, king of Assyria, on Jerusalem.

Key verse:

Isa. 39:6 – “The time will certainly come when everything in your palace and all that your fathers have stored up until this day will be carried off to Babylon; nothing will be left,” says the Lord.

Quick summary:

The news of Hezekiah’s illness and recovery has spread as far as distant Babylon, whose king sends congratulatory letters and a gift to Jerusalem, followed by a visit. While on the surface it appears that Merodach-baladan has come to rejoice with Hezekiah over his restored health, the real reason is to learn about Judah’s economic resources, which may be needed to combat the Assyrians. No doubt Hezekiah is exploring an alliance with Babylon as well. But Hezekiah’s disregard of God’s promise to save Jerusalem will prove costly to the king’s family and nation.

Take note:

This event also is recorded in 2 Kings 20:12-19 and a revealing commentary is placed at the end of a summary of Hezekiah’s wealth and works in 2 Chron. 32:27-31: “When the ambassadors of Babylon’s rulers were sent to him to inquire about the miraculous sign that happened in the land, God left him to test him and discover what was in his heart” (v. 31). The Lord already knows what’s in Hezekiah’s heart, principally pride, but He allows the king to discover this for himself.

Hezekiah’s Folly (Isa. 39:1-8)

In all likelihood there is more than good will on the mind of Merodach-baladan, who is known as Marduk-apal-idinna, the invader. Twice he has tried to shake off the yoke of Assyria, succeeding for a time in taking the city of Babylon. After his second reign, in 703-702 B.C., he is deposed by Assyria’s King Sennacherib and flees to Elam, where he tries to form alliances with other nations to fight against the Assyrians. “Undoubtedly his friendly visit after Hezekiah’s illness was intended to persuade the king of Judah to join the rebel alliance in the fight against Assyria. This made Hezekiah’s indiscretion all the worse in view of Isaiah’s words that God was using Assyria to punish the whole region (chap.  10). The visit was also God’s test of Hezekiah’s heart (2 Chron. 32:31)” (John Fr. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, 1:1090).

Matthew Henry notes that there may have been a noble element to the Babylonian king’s visit besides seeking a military alliance: “It becomes us to give honour to those whom our God puts honour upon. The sun was the Babylonians’ god; and when they understood that it was with a respect to Hezekiah that the sun, to their great surprise, went back ten degrees, on such a day, they thought themselves obliged to do Hezekiah all the honour they could. Will all people thus walk in the name of their God, and shall not we?” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 39:1).

Flattered by his Babylonian visitors, Hezekiah shows them “all his armory” and “everything … in his treasuries.” No doubt the king wants to impress the emissaries, but they are more interested in his ability to support a sustained military uprising against Assyria. When Isaiah gets wind of Hezekiah’s hospitality, he asks the king several questions and discovers that Hezekiah has shown the Babylonians “everything in my palace” (v. 4).

Isaiah’s response is prophetic. First, he tells the king that one day his family’s immense wealth will be carried off to Babylon. This is astounding because the Assyrians, not the Babylonians, are threatening the region. The Babylonians are rebels on the run, and they have experienced numerous defeats at the hands of the Assyrians. Second, Isaiah tells Hezekiah that some of his descendents will be carried away into Babylon as captives and made eunuchs. This is fulfilled beginning in 605 B.C. when Daniel and other Hebrews are taken from Judah and pressed into service in Babylon. Hezekiah is not the lone cause of this judgment, or even a major cause of it, for subsequent rulers, priests and false prophets heaped up the nation’s sins until God could take it no longer (2 Chron. 36:13-16).

Warren W. Wiersbe remarks: “It was certainly a mistake for Hezekiah to show his visitors all his wealth, but pride made him do it. After a time of severe suffering, sometimes it feels so good just to feel good that we get off guard and fail to watch and pray. The king was basking in fame and wealth and apparently neglecting his spiritual life. Hezekiah was safer as a sick man in bed than as a healthy man on the throne. Had he consulted first with Isaiah, the king would have avoided blundering as he did” (Be Comforted, S. Is 39:1). D.A. Carson adds, “The faith of Hezekiah, proof against the heaviest blows, melts at the touch of flattery … and the world claims another victim by its friendship” (New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, S. Is 39:1).

The Lord’s punishment will not come in Hezekiah’s lifetime, as it did in the days of King David for his sin of numbering the troops (see 2 Sam. 24:13-15). Hezekiah’s response at first glance seems self centered. “The word of the Lord that you have spoken is good,” he says in verse 8. “There will be peace and security during my lifetime.” How cold hearted to rejoice in the escape from punishment that will be imposed on future generations. But on closer examination, the king’s reaction is more likely a humble acceptance of God’s decree, as 2 Chron. 32:26 bears out. The king repents and God forgives him. Still, the consequences of his foolish deeds are not removed; the Babylonians will return a century later – not as allies but as conquering foes.

Closing Thought

Wiersbe comments: “When Satan cannot defeat us as the ‘roaring lion’ (1 Peter 5:8–9), he comes as the deceiving serpent (2 Cor. 11:3). What Assyria could not do with weapons, Babylon did with gifts. God permitted the enemy to test Hezekiah so that the proud king might learn what was really in his heart (2 Chron. 32:31)” (Be Comforted, S. Is 39:1).

 Copyright 2009 by Rob Phillips


Isaiah 38: To the Gates of Sheol

Isaiah 38: To the Gates of Sheol (audio)

Isaiah 38: To the Gates of Sheol (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:

Hezekiah falls terminally ill, apparently in the days before or during Sennacherib’s siege of Jerusalem in 701 B.C.

Key verses:

Isa. 38:17 – Indeed, it was for [my own] welfare that I had such great bitterness; but Your love [has delivered] me from the Pit of destruction, for You have thrown all my sins behind Your back.

Quick summary:

Hezekiah is afflicted by a fatal illness and in desperation cries out to the Lord, who extends the king’s life by 15 years. The shadow of the king’s sundial moves back 10 degrees as a sign of God’s promise. After being healed, Hezekiah recounts his depression and deliverance in a poem that praises the Lord for His forgiveness and faithfulness.

Take note:

The sign of God’s promise to Hezekiah – the backwards movement of the sundial – is similar to an even more dramatic event in Joshua 10:12-14, when the Lord causes the sun to delay its setting for almost a full day so the Israelites may take their vengeance on the Amorites. Both miracles illustrate the Lord’s power over creation and His sovereign right to suspend the orderly principles upon which the universe operates.

The King’s Sickness and Supplication (Isa. 38:1-3)

Hezekiah’s illness precedes Sennacherib’s siege of Jerusalem, recorded in chapters 36-37. Chapters 38-39 come before chapters 36-37 chronologically but are placed here perhaps because they prepare the way for the rest of Isaiah. The news of Hezekiah’s illness affects the entire nation. Whenever a leader – especially a godly one like Hezekiah – falls ill, it impacts the economy, the military, the national mood and much more. Imagine, as well, how the news creates national panic when Jerusalem is on the cusp of an Assyrian siege. But there’s more. Since Hezekiah does not have a son, he would have to appoint a near relative to the throne. Would God’s promise to David hold true (2 Sam. 7:16)?

Upon learning of his terminal illness (2 Kings 20:1-6, 9-11; 2 Chron. 32:24) the king turns his face to the wall, not in a sulking manner as Ahab has done (1 Kings 21:4), but likely to afford himself privacy as he seeks the Lord’s favor. While some commentators criticize Hezekiah for his “selfish” prayer, the king is praying only as most others would pray. Besides, as a godly king, he likely has his nation’s future in mind at least as much as his own health. Interestingly, Hezekiah does not specifically pray that his life be spared, although it is implied. Rather, his concern seems to be for a godly leader at a time of national calamity.

Even though Hezekiah’s illness is a crushing blow to the king and his subjects, God will use the circumstances of the king’s life to teach us to rely totally on Him to be faithful to His promises.

The Lord’s Salvation and Sign (Isa. 38:4-8)

The Lord replies to Hezekiah’s prayer through Isaiah, who assures the king that Yahweh has heard his prayer and seen his tears. It should be comforting to the believer to know that the sovereign Lord of the universe is able to distinguish the singular cry of a righteous man among the “noise” of mankind’s religious pleadings; that He observes, listens and responds graciously. More than 700 years later James will capture the same truth when he writes, “The intense prayer of the righteous is very powerful” (James 5:16b). Isaiah tells Hezekiah that the Lord will extend his life by 15 years. Since Hezekiah dies in 686 B.C., this prayer and its answer are set in 701 B.C., the year of Sennacherib’s siege of Jerusalem. Yahweh’s additional promise is that the Assyrians will not take the capital city, which must bring great comfort to the king’s heart.

The Lord confirms His promise to Hezekiah by a sign. Evidently a unique sundial has been built, a stairway that tells time by casting shadows. Some commentators believe the sundial is a large pillar that casts shadows on a double set of stairs. Herodotus states that the sundial and the division of days into 12-hour segments is an invention of the Babylonians, from whom Ahaz no doubt models his sundial. It’s interesting to note that years earlier, Ahaz rejects a sign from the Lord (Isa. 7:10-12). Now, on a stairway named for the late king, his son receives God’s miraculous assurance. 2 Kings 20:9-11 tells us that Hezekiah is given the choice as to which direction the shadow should move – forward or back. “It’s easy for the shadow to lengthen 10 steps,” Hezekiah says. “No, let the shadow go back 10 steps.” Isaiah calls out to the Lord, who responds by reversing the sundial’s shadow. “How this miracle of the reversal of the sun’s shadow occurred is not known. Perhaps the earth’s rotation was reversed or perhaps the sun’s rays were somehow refracted” (John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, S. 1:1089).

Hezekiah’s Poem (Isa. 38:9-20)

Hezekiah is a writer of psalms (see v. 20) and apparently supervises a team of scholars who copy some of the Old Testament scriptures (Prov. 25:1). Here, in a beautiful poem, the king recounts his feelings throughout a season of illness and recovery. Like others who stand for a time at death’s door, Hezekiah develops a greater appreciation for life. He pictures death as the end of a journey (vv. 11-12), a tent taken down (v. 12a; see also 2 Cor. 5:1-8) and a weaving cut from the loom (v. 12b). The king also discovers a higher plane in his prayer life (vv. 13-14). He cries out to the Lord in the night, feeling like a feeble animal in the clutches of a lion, and in the day, feeling like a helpless bird. He acknowledges his sin and pleads forgiveness, which God grants, throwing the king’s sins behind His back (v. 17). Finally, the king is grateful for new opportunities for service (vv. 15-20). “There was a new humility in his walk, a deeper love for the Lord in his heart, and a new song of praise on his lips. He had a new determination to praise God all the days of his life, for now those days were very important to him. ‘So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom’ (Ps. 90:12)” (Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Comforted, S. Is 38:1).

Is Hezekiah wrong to ask God to spare his life? Some commentators argue yes, citing the fact that had Hezekiah’s life not been extended his son Manasseh would not have been born. Manasseh rules for 55 years and is one of the most wicked kings in Judah’s history. However, this evil king repents after God chastens him and he ends his life serving the Lord (2 Chron. 33:11-20). Further, his grandson is the godly king Josiah, who does much to turn the nation back to the Lord.

Some additional notes about Hezekiah’s poem may prove helpful:

  • The king’s illness is not a result of age but of God’s chastening. Hezekiah notes that he is destined for the gates of Sheol “in the prime of my life” (v. 10).
  • His lament, “I will never see the Lord” (v. 11) does not mean the king fears damnation. Rather, in the context of his poem, the king despairs that he will no longer enjoy the blessings of his earthly life.
  • In the end, Hezekiah sees the benefit in his illness. He acknowledges the Lord’s right and power to give life – and to take it. He sees that he is treated, not as he deserves because of his sin, but according to God’s grace. Like Job, whose suffering is for entirely different purposes, he now sees the Lord in a new and wonderful light (Job 42:5-6).
  • When Hezekiah says, “Death cannot praise You” (v. 18), he is not denying life after death; rather, he is noting that one’s earthly service to the Lord ends when his or her last breath is drawn, and he is grateful for 15 more years to serve the living God.

The Cure (Isa. 38:21-22)

In the parallel account in 2 Kings 20:7-9, these two verses recorded by Isaiah precede the giving of the sign of the shadow on Ahaz’s stairway. This is not a contradiction but a different perspective from which the story is told. A poultice of dried figs is applied to Hezekiah’s infected skin. This is a common remedy for boils and ulcers in these days and it demonstrates that prayer, medicine and the direct intervention of the Lord are all active in the king’s healing.

Scripture teaches that God may heal with or without human supplication and with or without the use of medicine. The Creator of all things needs nothing from His creatures. But it pleases the Lord to answer prayer and He has provided healing elements in nature to help people counter the physical effects of the fall. When we are injured or fall ill, it is no contradiction for us to pray for healing and to avail ourselves of medical attention. The Lord does not always heal supernaturally and our best medical capabilities often fall short, resulting in continued illness and even death. These are reminders that the Lord’s ways are higher than our ways (Isa. 55:8-9) and that even Christians live in a sinful and fallen world. However, we look forward to our future glorification in which our mortal bodies will be transformed into immortal bodies that the ravages of sin cannot touch (see 1 Cor. 15:51-58; 1 Thess. 4:13-18; Rev. 21:4).

Closing Thought

Matthew Henry comments: “God’s promises are intended not to supersede, but to quicken and encourage, the use of means. Hezekiah is sure to recover, and yet he must take a lump of figs and lay it on the boil, v. 21. We do not trust God, but tempt him, if, when we pray to him for help, we do not second our prayers with our endeavours. We must not put physicians … in the place of God, but make use of them in subordination to God and to his providence … the chief end we should aim at, in desiring life and health, is that we may glorify God, and do good, and improve ourselves in knowledge, and grace, and meetness for heaven” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 38:9).

Copyright 2009 by Rob Phillips

Isaiah 34: There will be Blood

Isaiah 34: Listen to the audio

Isaiah 34: Download notes and 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:

There is not sufficient information to know precisely when Isaiah delivers the prophetic messages of chapters 34-35. It is clear, however, that these prophecies anticipate the Day of the Lord, when He will judge the nations and deliver His people. Some commentators believe chapters 34-35 serve as an “eschatological conclusion” (an end-times wrap up) to the woe oracles of Isa. 28-33, which could place this message in the reign of Hezekiah.

Key verses:

Isa. 34:2 – The Lord is angry with all the nations – furious with all their armies. He will set them apart for destruction, giving them over to slaughter.

Quick summary:

Isaiah describes the judgments of the Day of the Lord in detail, including miraculous wonders in the heavens. In all likelihood, Edom is symbolic of the world powers that have opposed Israel and now must face the Jewish people’s “Judge … lawgiver … and King” (Isa. 33:22). “In the Day of the Lord, the Gentiles will be repaid for the way they have treated the Jews and exploited their land (Joel 3:1–17). ‘Zion’s cause’ may not get much support among the nations today, but God will come to their defense and make their cause succeed” (Warren Wiersbe, Be Comforted, S. Is 34:1).

Take note:

Anyone who contends that Jesus is the consummate peace-love-and-joy hippie who taught “live and let live” and never spoke a harsh word or raised a hand in anger would do well to note how Isaiah, Jesus Himself and the New Testament writers depict the Messiah in both His first and second comings. Isaiah, for example, describes the Lord as “angry,” “furious,” setting the armies of the nations apart for “destruction” and “giving them over to slaughter.” The “stench of their corpses will rise,” the prophet reveals, and the mountains will “flow with their blood” (Isa. 34:2-3). Jesus often expresses anger, especially toward the religious leaders of His day, and twice he violently drives the money changers from the Temple. A reading of His “woes” against the “scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites” in Matthew 23 reveals stinging rebukes against the religious elite of His day, and His parables of the kingdom of heaven lay out a tragic end for those who oppose Him (see, for example, Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43, 47-50; 22:1-14) What’s more, His return will be violent and bloody as He punishes those who shake their fists toward heaven and fight against the rightful Heir to the world’s throne (see Rev. 19:11-21).

The Judgment of the Nations (Isa. 34:1-4)

The chapter opens with a call to the entire earth to “come here and listen.” No one is left out of this frightening message of God’s future judgment. He clearly beckons the “nations … peoples … earth … and all that fills it … the world and all that comes from it” (v. 1). What is so important that no one is exempted? “The Lord is angry with all the nations – furious with all their armies” (v. 2).  In His wrath, Yahweh will slaughter countless evil soldiers, leaving their blood to flow in the valleys and their corpses to rot on the hillsides.

There will be wonders in the sky as well. “All the heavenly bodies will dissolve,” Isaiah writes. “The skies will roll up like a scroll, and their stars will all wither as leaves wither on the vine, and foliage on the fig tree” (v. 4). Catastrophic events in the heavens will accompany the Messiah’s return to earth to establish His kingdom (see Joel 2:10, 30-31; 3:15; Zech. 14:6-7; Matt. 24:29). However, it is difficult to know with certainty exactly when and how these prophecies will be fulfilled. John Walvoord and Roy Zuck comment: “Isaiah 34:4 may refer to the judgment of the sixth seal in the Tribulation (Rev. 6:12-13), or to the eternal state, after the Millennium, when the sun will not be needed (Rev. 21:1). Or perhaps Isaiah was speaking figuratively of a change in the whole power structure in the Millennium when human kings will be done away with and God alone will be in control” (The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, S. 1:1084).

The Judgment of Edom (Isa. 34:5-17)

Isaiah uses Edom as an example of the world, which will come under God’s judgment. The Edomites are descendents of Esau, Jacob’s older brother, and are perpetual enemies of Israel (cf. Ezek. 35; 36:5). As such, they are an appropriate representation of what the Lord will do to all nations that oppose His people. The Lord’s slaughter of Edom is depicted as “a sacrifice in Bozrah,” the capital city of Edom (v. 6). Modern-day Buseirah is located about 25 miles southeast of the Dead Sea and is a place animals in Isaiah’s day are slaughtered for sacrifice. The Jews’ practice is to offer sacrifices to God, but in this passage it is God offering the wicked as sacrifices. The Lord depicts His enemies as animals, who are sacrificed along with the fat (Lev. 3:9-11). These nations often slaughtered and sacrificed God’s people, so now the Lord sacrifices them.

Many Bible commentators believe this bloody scene depicts the battle of Armageddon in the last days. Warren Wiersbe writes: “Isaiah compares the Day of the Lord to the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah (Isa. 34:9–10; Gen. 18–19). This is a significant comparison because, just before the coming of the Lord, society will be ‘as it was in the days of Lot’ (Luke 17:28). Tar running like streams and sulfur like dust will keep the fires of judgment burning (Gen. 14:10; 19:24). The description in Isaiah 34:10 reminds us of the fall of Babylon (Rev. 14:8-11; 19:3). We should also remember that the fires of eternal hell, the lake of fire, will never be quenched (Mark 9:43–48)” (Be Comforted, S. Is 34:1).

“Edom symbolizes in Scripture the ungodly (cf. Heb. 12:16) and the persecutor (cf. Ob. 10–14), the opposite and adversary of the church,” writes D.A. Carson. “The metaphor in vs 5–7 is a grim variant of the banquet scene (cf. 25:6), dwelling on the butchery behind the sacrificial feast and using [a] current idiom to show that the whole people, from ‘young bloods’ and leading citizens (7a) to the least and lowest (6), is doomed (cf. 63:1–6)” (New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, S. Is 34:1).

As a result of God’s judgment, the land will seem to be ablaze – her streams turned to pitch (a flammable tar-like substance) and her soil to sulfur. The land will become desolate, inhabited only by creatures that seek out more solitary confines. Owls, ravens, jackals, ostriches, hyenas, wild goats and other animals will abound as the land becomes overgrown and uninhabitable for generations. Isaiah uses an interesting name in verse 14: The “night monster” (NASB) or “screech owl” (HCSB), literally Lilith, is noted in ancient mythology as a female night demon that inhabits desolate places. The imagery here is used to illustrate the total devastation of the heathen lands.

The theme of divine vengeance dominates chapters 34-35, prompting some people to withdraw from the “angry” and “vindictive” God of the Old Testament in favor of a kinder, gentler New Testament God. Some even argue the Bible cannot be true since it depicts two entirely different Gods in the Old and New Testaments. Yet God is immutable, or unchanging, as Scripture makes clear, and He alone is the rightful Author of vengeance. Both the Old and New Testaments affirm the truth that the Lord is the “God of vengeance” (Ps. 94:1). In Deut. 32:35 the Lord declares, “Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay.” Sometimes God’s vengeance is carried out through human agencies (cf. Num. 31:2-3; Josh. 10:13). “Yet no individual has God’s permission to take personal revenge,” writes Lawrence O. Richards. “The reason is that vengeance is a judicial concept. It is reserved for God, as moral and spiritual Judge of His universe, to punish those who persistently reject Him, abandon His ways, and oppress the righteous. Typically vengeance is reserved for history’s end (cf. Isa. 63:1–6), and any present time is marked by a divine forebearance that provides individuals and nations with every opportunity to repent and to believe” (The Bible Readers Companion, electronic ed., S. 428).

In the New Testament, the doctrine of God’s vengeance is expressed in the Greek words dike and dikesis. The primary meaning is “justice” and communicates the fact that justice is a judicial function reserved for God alone (Rom. 12:19). As in the Old Testament, vengeance in the New Testament often looks toward the end of human history (Rom. 2:1-11) and is sometimes graphically described (2 Thess. 1:5-10; Rev. 19:11-21). “The real wonder is not that God will certainly punish the unrepentant, but that He chose to vent His anger against sin on Christ rather than on us. Christ’s sufferings for us forever disprove the notion that a God of vengeance could not also be a God of love” (Richards, S. 428).

Closing Thought

Matthew Henry comments: “As there is a day of the Lord’s patience, so there will be a day of his vengeance; for, though he bear long, he will not bear always…. There is a time prefixed in the divine counsels for the deliverance of the church and the destruction of her enemies, a year of the redeemed, which will come, a year of recompences [sic] for the controversy of Zion; and we must patiently wait till then, and judge nothing before the time” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 34:1).

Copyright 2009 by Rob Phillips


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Isaiah 33: Judge, Lawgiver and King

Isaiah 33: Download or listen to the audio

Isaiah 33: Download notes and 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:

Since chapter 33 is among the “woe oracles” extending from Isaiah 28-33, it seems best to place these events around 704-701 B.C., during the time the Assyrians invade Judah and besiege Jerusalem.

Key verse:

Isa. 33:22 – For the Lord is our Judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our King. He will save us.

Quick summary:

The Assyrian army, the “destroyer never destroyed,” is warned of imminent divine judgment. Even though Assyria is terrifying Judah and surrounding nations, the Lord will soon rise up and show His might. As for the citizens of Judah, only those who pursue righteousness and justice will be spared. Finally, the glories of the Messianic Kingdom are previewed, with the King making Jerusalem secure.

Take note:

Some commentators have pointed to verse 22 as a model for America’s founding fathers in establishing the three branches of government: executive (king), legislative (lawgiver), and judicial (judge). While only the Messiah assumes these three roles with perfection, the “balance of power” suggested by this model serves as an excellent guide to sinful people striving to govern well.

Woe to Assyria and Judah (Isa. 33:1-16)

Isaiah begins by addressing the “destroyer” and the “traitor.” The “destroyer” is Sennacherib who, along with his Assyrian army, is breathing down the necks of God’s people. Powerful, boisterous, swift and cruel, the Assyrians are sweeping across Judah, conquering the fortified cities and closing in on Jerusalem. They are building siege ramps and sealing off the city so that no one may enter or leave. It is becoming increasingly clear that unless God intervenes, all is lost. The “traitor” refers to those within Judah who want to buy off the Assyrians, as King Hezekiah once tried unsuccessfully to do (2 Kings 18:13-15), or form alliances with Egypt or other nations to protect them against the advancing Assyrian hoards. God’s word through Isaiah is clear: The destroyer will be destroyed and the traitor betrayed. Sennacherib has broken his agreement with Judah and invaded the country, and the Egyptians will prove unable to rescue the Jews. Yet in a single night God will strike 185,000 Assyrians dead on the hills surrounding Jerusalem.

While the clamor of Assyrian soldiers rings the city, a righteous remnant in Jerusalem prays for deliverance. Warren Wiersbe describes the scene as it unfolds in verse 2: “Isaiah had promised that God would be gracious to them if they would only trust Him (30:18–19), so a few devout people turned His promise into prayer. God spared Jerusalem for David’s sake (37:35) and because a believing remnant trusted God and prayed. Never underestimate the power of a praying minority” (Be Comforted, S. Is 33:1). Verses 3-6 speak of the righteous remnant’s confidence in God and their praise for His salvation. Although Hezekiah had acted foolishly by using the temple treasury to pay off Sennacherib, the Lord forgave him and now Isaiah reminds him that “[t]he fear of the Lord is Zion’s treasure” (v. 6).

Verses 7-9 describe the dire circumstances in Judah during the Assyrian invasion. Judah’s bravest soldiers stand in the streets and weep bitterly as one fortified city after another falls. The nation’s envoys shed tears of helplessness as their diplomatic missions come to naught. The roads are treacherous, the fields and orchards are barren, and there’s no avenue of escape – except with the Lord. “Now I will rise up,” He declares. “Now I will lift Myself up. Now I will be exalted” (v. 10). Although the Assyrians are “pregnant” with plans to conquer Jerusalem, the Lord says they will “conceive chaff” and “give birth to stubble” (v. 11). Chomping at the bit, panting for yet another devastating military victory, the Assyrians will find their hot breaths to be like fire that consumes them in a back draft (vv. 11-12). As a result, people far and near will know that the shocking death of 185,000 Assyrians in a single night is the Lord’s doing and a demonstration of His supernatural strength (v. 13). “God is long-suffering with His enemies, but when He decides to judge, He does a thorough job” (Wiersbe, S. Is 33:1).

The miraculous deliverance of Jerusalem does more than bring glory to God among the Gentiles. It also causes fear and conviction in the hearts of the ungodly in Judah. The Lord does not free us of danger so we may continue in sin. Rather, “with You there is forgiveness, so that You may be revered” (Ps. 130:4). When the Jews awaken one morning to the sight of 185,000 Assyrian corpses on the hills outside Jerusalem, they realized the God of Israel is “a consuming fire” (v. 14; see Isa. 10:17; Heb. 12:29).

Isaiah then describes the kind of person God will bless: the one who “lives righteously and speaks rightly, who refuses gain from extortion, whose hand never takes a bribe, who stops his ears from listening to murderous plots” (v. 15). That person will “dwell on the heights; his refuge will be the rocky fortresses, his food provided, his water assured” (v. 16). This is not a universal promise of prosperity, for surely many godly people suffer extreme hardship and persecution (see Heb. 11:35b-38). It is, however, a reminder of God’s promise to bless Israel, contingent upon the people’s faithfulness to Him.

The Reign of God in Zion (Isa. 33:17-24)

The prophet now describes the prosperous land in which the redeemed one day will live, safely and securely in the majestic presence of the Messiah. They will remember the dark days of oppression at the hands of foreign invaders, including the Assyrians, and rest in the knowledge that their nation and its capital city are free from attacks by land or sea. Assyria’s defeat will be like a shipwreck, leaving abundant spoils for the Jews to plunder. In fact, the booty will be so great after the Lord strikes the Assyrian army (Isa. 37:36) that even the lame will have ample time to take their fill (v. 23). Peace and prosperity will come by the Lord’s doing, not by human strength or political alliances.

Verse 17 offers a marvelous contrast. While the residents of Judah now see King Hezekiah in sackcloth, harassed and humbled by the Assyrians, one day they will see Messiah in His beauty – a righteous King to whom the world is drawn, preventing the unrighteous from entering His city. Three times in verse 22 He is called “the Lord,” and three titles are given to Him: Judge, Lawgiver and King. This is the “perfect ideal of the theocracy, to be realized under Messiah alone; the judicial, legislative, and administrative functions as king to be exercised by Him in person (Is 11:4; 32:1; Jam 4:12)” (Robert Jamieson, A.R. Fausset, David Brown, A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments, S. Is 33:22).

Jerusalem during the messianic kingdom is described as “a peaceful pasture.” How different from Isaiah’s day in which Sennacherib surrounds the city with barbarous troops, seals it off and builds siege ramps against it. The day is coming, the prophet assures God’s people, when Jerusalem will be like a tent pitched by a broad river inaccessible to warships. “Jerusalem is one of the few great cities of antiquity that was not built near a river, but that will change during the millennial kingdom (Ezek. 47). Of course, the river symbolizes the peace that the Lord gives to His people (Isa. 48:18; 66:12; Ps. 46:4)” (Be Comforted, S. Is 33:1).

Closing Thought

Matthew Henry comments: “When things are brought thus to the last extremity, God will magnify himself. He had seemed to sit by as an unconcerned spectator: ‘But now will I arise, saith the Lord; now will I appear and act, and therein I will be not only evidenced, but exalted.’ He will not only demonstrate that there is a God that judges in the earth, but that he is God over all, and higher than the highest. ‘Now will I lift up myself, will prepare for action, will act vigorously, and will be glorified in it.’ God’s time to appear for his people is when their affairs are reduced to the lowest ebb, when their strength is gone and there is none shut up nor left, Deu. 32:36. When all other helpers fail, then is God’s time to help” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 33:1).

Copyright 2009 by Rob Phillips