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Chapters 24-27 now change the focus from individual nations to the whole world. In a sense, it is a “lesser to greater” kind of situation. God’s judgement on those nations (chapters 14 through 23) were glimpses, types of the judgment that will be brought upon the whole earth. In other words, God would condemn the wicked of every nation equally. Much like what the nations would experience, there will be no one who is not affected – from the lowest peasant to the highest ruler. As Isaiah revealed the futures of all the different nations everyone was affected: from those who were conquered (Moab, Israel, Egypt) to those who did the conquering, (Assyria, and Babylon). His judgment transcended them, transcended their gods, and was upon all of them.
I was just recently walking through revelation with our confirmands. A key thing I pointed out to them was that what we see in revelation happens cyclically along a continuum with a definite endpoint. And the closer we get to the endpoint the more intense those things described in the book of Revelation will be.
As I read Isaiah 24:5 my mind goes to ways in which we have been poor stewards of the earth. Ways that God’s words in Genesis to “fill the earth and subdue it” have been wrongly interpreted to equate to abuse and recklessness in the way we handle, use our natural resources. Or I look at v.10 and my mind went to those images and reports from Wuhan in the early days of Corona where the cities were filled with their population but they looked like ghost towns because people could not leave their houses. These are little glimpses of, little precursors to “the big one.” That the earth will see at the point of Christ’s return
Something I’ve tried to keep before myself, and my family, and before the congregation over the past 12+ months is that God is in charge. That He wasn’t surprised by the virus. … Just look at today’s chapter. And, because He is in charge, we needed to cling to Him. That is not any less true today as we see the numbers skyrocket in India right now. It is not any less true as we continue to see more and more people getting vaccines, uncertain as to how long the vaccines will be effective, and if they will be strong enough against new variants that pop up. Our faith must not be in the vaccines, but in the God who gives us the knowledge and capabilities to develop and deploy the vaccines.
The overall message of Revelation, God wins (which means we are saved and so we win), so hold on. In 2 Thessalonians St. Paul writes, “Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus CHrist and our being gathered together in him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken... (and) ... But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first-fruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.” (2:1-2,13-15) In other words, “hold on.” Brothers and sisters, we are living, in the time of revelation. The world has lived in that time since the day Jesus ascended. So remember: God is in charge and He loves you, He has promised to be with you to forgive you and to walk with you. So trust in Him.
Prayer: Father the judgment that comes upon the world, and on us in big and little ways is just. Our sin, my sin, continues to work towards separating us from you. Thankfully, Jesus has already won the war and He continues to fight the battles for us between now and His return. Help me to trust that. Help me to cling to the victory that has already been won in the cross and empty tomb. Help me to hold on. Amen.
The big issue that Isaiah is addressing in this chapter is pride. You see Tyre and Sidon get named in the Gospels. Jesus talks about these cities – so they still are existing in his day. Tyre is the seat of trading power in the years leading up to the Assyrian invasion. Sidon, it’s “next-door” neighbor is always lumped together with it. Tyre was the military power/seat of government – Sidon was the trading capitol. Sidon’s trading power depended upon the sea. So there is a lot of addressing “o inhabitants of the coast.” In fact, the city of Carthage in what would be modern day Tunisia, was founded by Phoenicians – so folks from this region of Tyre and Sidon. Their trade both over land and sea, but especially sea, gave them a lot of clout and control in the region at one time. Even, it would seem to the point of being, “the bestower of crowns, whose merchants were princes…” I think of the Este family or the Medicci’s of Medieval Europe … very strong politically because of their wealth, though not themselves royalty.
When you have a lot of power, even financial power, you can come to a point it can cause a lot of pride. We can foolishly think that we’re self-sufficient. We can naively believe that our own strength, our own wits, and our own skill is what made our wealth, or our situation what it is. It is because of their pride that God is going to lay waste to Tyre and Sidon. And even running away to Cyprus in the Mediterranean, or to Tarshis (Tarsus) far north and west won’t get them out of the trouble God is bringing. But even for Phoenicia (for Tyre and Sidon) God has compassion and mercy … “at the end of seventy years (a lifetime), the Lord will visit Tyre,…” God will not utterly destroy them in the punishment, but will re-establish them.
Wealth and prosperity are not in and of themselves bad things. But when they are seen as the way in which one finds their security, then there is a broken relationship between us and God. And when one seeks them for security, it is an easy next step to see them as the basis for the worth and value that I have … pride. This is true with anything to which we look for our security. That desire for security might be material security, it might be relationship security (relationships with other people – I’m dependent upon their liking me, or approving of me), it might be self-security – (that I have to do things and say things that will make me feel good about myself, rather than looking to God for my identity). Just as feeling like I am lacking in these things can cause me anxiety if I’m not depending upon God, so too, if I have plenty of it, can they cause me to get an inflated head and be filled with pride.
Jesus became poor for our salvation and so with humble repentant faith in Him our trade, our commerce, our relationships, our personal development can be used for honorable, fair, and just purposes. And as we regularly receive His humble love and grace, it can keep us humble and enable us to rely on Him, and point others to Him.
Prayer: Dear Father, defend us from both anxiety and pride. Let our attachment to the things and the values of this world never supersede our attachment to, and our dependency upon you. Amen.
“I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David. He shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut and none shall open.” (21:22)
“O come, Thou Key of David, come, and open wide our heavenly home; Make safe the way that leads on high, and close the path to misery. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, o Israel.” (“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” LSB 357 v.5)
This oracle concerning Jerusalem is placed in the midst of these oracles to the nations because it reminded the people of Judah, and all of us readers, that Judah, Jerusalem was not looking any different than the rest of their neighbors. I have a note written in my bible between vv. 11 and 12, “self reliance.” The people of Judah and Jerusalem don’t look any different than the nations around them. Verse 8 says, “In that day you looked to the weapons of the House of the Forest …” (That was their armory.) They knew better than to rely on their cunning, or their military prowess. They knew better than to look for all the ways that they could take advantage of the weak, helpless, and unfortunate. And they didn’t look any different than the nations. And when they were aware of the advance of their enemies against them and rather than returning in repentance to Yahweh they were carrying on in partying and celebrating.
Shebna, of verse 15, typified this pride-filled self reliant spirit that was rampant in Judah. That is why God will replace him in his role as Secretary for the king. Eliakim is serving as a type of Christ. Just hear what God predicts will happen – he will fasten him like a peg in a secure place … he will become a throne of honor to his father’s house. They will hang on him the whole honor of his father’s house. … The peg that was fastened in a secure place will give way, and it will be cut down and fall, and the load that was on it will be cut off, for the Lord has spoken.”
Jesus is the “throne” (i.e. the ruler, the seat of power and authority). The honor of the Father is on Him and though He was the perfect son of the Father, (“You are my Son, with you I am well pleased”) He bore the load of our sin (becoming sin for us) so that when He died, the load that He bore was cut off. And in His Kingdom He has “all authority in heaven and on earth” (he has, He IS the Key). “I am the way and the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.”
In His death and resurrection Jesus unlocked heaven for us so that we no longer would be shut out due to our sins. And since he has made us children of the kingdom He has given us the gift to unlock those gates for others – by giving the gift of forgiveness to give to others.
Prayer: “O Key of David and scepter of the house of Israel, You open and no one can close, You close and no one can open: Come and rescue the prisoners who are in darkness and the shadow of death.” (Antiphon for December 20)
Dumah is a (capitol?) city of the region that was at one time known as Seir, and was known also as Edom. It is the region that would be just south of Moab. I’ve read that the one calling from Seir is capturing the worry and the fret and fear that is taking the region at the possible coming of the fight between Assyria and Babylon. And the watchman, giving the answer that they give is imprecise reflecting the uncertainty with when these things will happen (like a thief in the night). But it also reflects, if I am reading the text correctly, that the watchman is unconcerned about what time of day or night it is. “One is calling to me from Seir … the “me” I believe is Isaiah. And so Isaiah is trusting in the Lord, and so, yes, he doesn’t “know the day or the hour,” but he knows who the one is behind the scenes that has it all in His hands. And the last oracle for this chapter is concerning the Arabian Penninsula. The place names are all in that area of this region. The conflict between Assyria and Babylon (as Babylon begins to tryt to assert its independence from Assyria) will be so great that there will be fugitives and that the “Dedanites” (a tribe of people who were known for their trading caravans) would not feel safe to travel along the trade routes, but instead … “in the thickets in Arabia you will lodge…” as they, “flee from the bent bow and from the press of battle.”
1 Thessalonian 5:1-11 talks about the coming of the Lord. It talks about how those who are in Christ are fully aware that “The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” And so they would not be surprised when that day comes – not taken off guard like the rest of the world is. Paul, says that it is quite the opposite. We are children of light and so we can clothe ourselves with the breastplate of faith and love and with the helmet of salvation while we walk as in the daylight. All this because God has not destined us for wrath, but for salvation.
The temptation is to be anxious when we are aware of the things in this world that are out of our control. I super high bill that we could in no way expect. Troubling news about the health of a family member. Rising covid cases in various places in the world. Places where are family members or good friends are living or working. The anxiety is not unfounded. It is real and legitimate. But, as Jesus tells us it isn’t in worrying or feeding the anxiety that we are going to solve the issues. In fact we cannot solve them at all. We must trust in God as Isaiah did. We trust that if He wasn’t willing to let us live and die forever without Him, separated from Him He isn’t going to abandon us in these moments of anxiety. We trust that just as He was able to do something about our sin-sickness, our weakness against that old enemy Satan, He is doing something about this situation that is causing us to feel so anxious.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, you call us to be watchful, to be alert for “the day of the Lord” help us to watch for that day not with dread and fear, but with hope and encouragement, knowing that it is the completing of your ongoing work to remove us from the power of sin and Satan and to give us an eternity with you. Amen.
In Isaiah 18 the prophet is speaking of a land of whirring wings beyond the rivers of Cush” (… Cush is part of Egypt, but most especially the upper Nile region (modern day Ethiopia). It was from this region that the eunuch whom Phillip met in the book of acts came. In previous chapters, including chapter 17 Isaiah warns against an alliance with Syria to the north. And now he turns attention to the south saying that while the common opinion might be that these guys from Cush are, “feared near and far, a nation mighty and conquering…” (18:2) eventually it is they who will be bringing tribute to Jerusalem – to bring it to Yahweh. The implication is that Judah will not find their safety, their protection, their strength in alliances of any sort. And so He moves northward on the map of Africa describing what he will do to Egypt. At the point when these oracles were being spoken Assyria was the power in the region. It was around 710-700 BC. Remember that Assyria had wiped out the northern kingdom of Israel twenty-two years before (722). So now the kings of Judah (Ahaz who died in 715 and now Hezekiah) were constantly tempted, and often tried to find their security in those foreign alliances. In this case, with Cush (what became the seat of power in Egypt) and Egypt generally as they also were feeling the threat of Assyria.
While all these nations (including Judah) try to use their cunning and skill and back scratching and military might to oppose Assyria (who has actually served as an instrument of God’s justice) God is “looking quietly from my dwelling” (18:4). It is not in the least disconcerting to him. And, in fact, He will bring His justice to Egypt as well.
What this part reminds me of is how time and time again when I am faced with the reality of my human frailty, sometimes even the reality of my sin, I keep trying to use this method or that method to get around it – to avoid facing the truth that I am not God. When the right answer is to (in the case of the sin) confess my sin and (in the case of all things pertaining to my weakness and frailty) trust in His ability to forgive, sustain, and carry me. Over and over the chosen people in Isaiah’s day didn’t want to heed the reminders of the covenant like don’t worship false gods, don’t let the wealthy and powerful manipulate things in their favor, don’t neglect those who are weak and vulnerable. Instead they kept seeking whatever advantages they could and when God brought judgment in the form of threatening armies and empires, they sought not repentance and forgiveness, but to dig in their heals.
And then, as God moves into a burden of judgment against Egypt in chapter nineteen we see at the end of nineteen something new, and surprising. The judgement that he will brings against Egypt and what he will bring against Assyria will have the same purpose and power as it does for Israel (i.e. both northern and southern kingdoms) … He will restore them. “Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria, the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance.
This reminds me of and reassures me in the words of the Hebrews passage that quotes Proverbs 3:11-12 “The Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” (Hebrews 12:6) Yes, he brought discipline upon Israel, through the instruments of the likes of Assyria, but He also brought discipline to Assyria and to Egypt and in the end brings them into the family, calling them My people, and the work of My hands. Discipline, Hebrews says, is painful, but a father who doesn’t bring that is a father who doesn’t care or love.
So the kingdom of Judah should not turn to Egypt/Cush to try to mount a fight against Assyria, God’s got all of them in his hands. At some point they too will be worshipping Him and will know and be known by Him, but in the mean time, (Chapter 20) Egypt and Cush will be as stripped naked as Isaiah was. Assyria will be the one to accomplish this around 711 BC.
The study note in my Bible says, “The Lord commands Isaiah to walk naked and barefoot for three years as a sign to Cush and Egypt of their impending Assyrian exile. Through this unusual act, Isaiah proclaims the futility of earthly alliances that oppose the Lord’s will. Although we are not called to imitate Isaiah’s unusual witness to the world, (for which I am thankful) our actions and words should show that escape from God’s wrath comes only through saving faith in Jesus.” (The Lutheran Study Bible, 1122).
Prayer: Thank you God that even though you bring discipline to us when we need it, it is there because of your love for us. So too is the forgiveness that you provide in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Help me to cling to Him and be transformed by His cross and by His empty tomb to more fully reflect you to the people I meet. Amen.
The oracles (burdens) continue. The oracle against Moab had begun in chapter 15. It is in 15:5 when God says, “My heart cries out for Moab…” Communicating that He does not delight in the destruction that will befall Moab. Moab was the region that bordered the south east portion of the Dead Sea. She and the Israelites had a history of tense, but occasionally friendly relationship. Naomi and Elimelech moved to Moab during the period of the judges because of a famine in Israel. Ruth (Naomi’s daughter in-law) was a Moabite who would become the grandmother of King David (and, therefore, the many greats grandmother of Jesus eventually). Still, Moab and the Israelites fought over a region known as Ammon that was defeated by the tribes of Reuben and Gad when the Israelites came to settle the Promised Land. (Ammon was to the north of Moab.) Israel and Moab shared a similar language as well.
So as the Assyrians are wreaking havoc in the region but not subduing Jerusalem God is giving instruction about caring for their Moabite neighbors. “Let the outcasts of Moab sojourn among you; be a shelter to them…” I mentioned in an earlier devotion, law is something that we do have to communicate, that we are called to share with people. But we don’t delight in it. And when we have to proclaim the law we also have to bring the Gospel as well. (“Yes, Moab, you’ll suffer at the hands of the Assyrians. But you will find relief and respite in the people of God as they find relief and respite in Him…”
Chapter 17 brings the focus back to Damascus, the capitol of Syria. Isaiah is saying, if I am reading this correctly that Syria, Damascus, will be brought low – just like the people (not the kingdom) of Israel. And what struck me with this section was vv. 10-11. “For you have forgotten the God of your salvation and have not remembered the Rock of your refuge; therefore, though you plant pleasant plants and sow the vine-branch of a stranger, though you make them grow on the day that you plant them, and make them blossom in the morning that you sow, yet the harvest will flee away in a day of grief and incurable pain.”
The objection that God had to the Israelites embracing the foreign gods of their neighbors was not just some philosophical/theological difference of opinion. The Israelites were like their neighbors trusting those false gods to be their strength, support, provider, entertainer … etc. And if trusting the false gods that meant they were not trusting him. And so their lives, their worldviews, the actions they took and the decisions they made were rooted in the pantheism they were practicing. And once they had started down that path, how hard it was for them to reverse course.
We don’t differ all that much from the ancient Israelites, Moabites, and Syrians. We may not erect temples to false deities. But what is it that we are fearing, loving and trusting? What is it we concentrate our lives around – is the goal of our life retirement? Or is it stuff? Maybe everything we’re looking for is a bigger house. I know for me … it’s the avoidance of pain. I have a feeling that this is probably true for many of us in America, and in the Church. Not that anyone enjoys being in pain, but perhaps our primary motivator in decisions that we make is what won’t hurt so much…
Thanks be to God that Christ became that sojourner – he was not native to Israel, or to this world. But instead of being a sojourner who needed the help of the natives of this world – His sojourn was to bring us help. To rescue us and restore us from the brokenness resulting from the sin that we have inherited from our first parents. And to forgive all the sins that that brokenness has caused in our lives … including our fearing, loving, trusting other things – and not God. And having been forgiven He sets us once again on our feet to walk in a life that is dependent solely upon Him.
Prayer: Heavenly father forgive me when I am smug or gloat over things that go wrong with others because they are getting the just “result” of their sin. Help me, in humility to forsake my own sinful and selfish ways and to, rather, with compassion, find ways to help even those who are suffering, even if it is a result of sinful choices on their part.
Isaiah 14:1-2 reflect the reversal of fortunes for God’s people. God will bring them back to the promised land and not just them, but they will have people asking to be a part of their kingdom, that will, “attach themselves” to Israel.
Verse three then picks up on what it will be like for them when that reversal takes place as it reports the taunting that they will give to the Babylonians. Now, remember, this specific prophecy is something that won’t happen for another two hundred fifty years. But when the Israelites are settled back in the promised land, they will be saying to those Babylonians things like, “you got what you deserved,” and “you’re not so tough now…” And they will say to the king of Babylon … your grave is going to be forgotten.
Now, of course, this isn’t going to literally happen because the whole reason that the Israelites get to return is because they are no longer ruled by the Babylonians. But the poetic tone of this prophetic word is communicating the victory the “nah-nah-nah” (picture a little kids sticking his tongue out at some bully who is put in his place by the child’s older brother) that Israel will once again know.
Over time Babylon would come to stand for those who put themselves in opposition to God and to God’s people. And so we see that even in the book of Revelation. It is never good or right for us to gloat over the misfortunes of others even our enemies. Again, the word oracle that keeps coming up over and over in these chapters is more strictly translated, “burden” as in the burden that is weighing Isaiah down. (See also 15:5 – “My heart” is in reference to Yahweh)
But the bigger picture - the bigger reality that these historical situations that Isaiah is talking about points to is the kingdom of Satan versus the kingdom of God. When it comes to our fight against Satan, when it comes to the victory that God has won over him … it is so appropriate to gloat over his defeat, over his annihilation. And that is why I like the image of a little kids being bullied and the older brother coming to the rescue.
We can safely and defiantly stand behind our big brother Jesus (we dare not do it alone) and stick our tongue out at Satan. We can do that even in the ongoing turmoil of this world. We can rest firmly in the presence, and the promise that God has beat him down. And while Satan may sometimes tempt us into sin, into short-sightedness, into hurtful words, or wayward glances – that’s all he’s got the power to do – to tempt us. God’s the one with the real power and he fights on our side. “But for us fights the valiant One, Whom God Himself elected.” (“A Mighty Fortress” v. 2, LSB 656)
Prayer (From the Lutheran Study Bible): “Lord, God, even as we are surrounded by the anger and wickedness of the powerful, give us comfort and joy in knowing that You have destroyed death for us. Amen.
The ESV translates verse 1 as, “The oracle concerning Babylon.” The Hebrew for the word, “oracle” is “massa.” Which is literally translated as “burden.” So this verse has sometimes been translated, “The burden concerning Babylon…” That’s significant for me. The preaching that Isaiah is about to get into for several chapters is a great deal of law proclamation for the various unbelieving nations. He is going to be foretelling things that will not be pleasant for them. For Isaiah, as for the other prophets, it truly was a burden. He (they) must deliver a word of judgment to the people.
And while, no doubt, Isaiah is pleased to know and share that the sons (children) of Jacob will not forever be harassed by these various nations that surround them, it is not with a joyful heart that He pronounces their destruction at the hands of God. If you read revelation 14:8; 16:19 and 17:5 you’ll see that “Babylon” is the embodiment of hostility toward God and His people. And the original Babylon itself will be serving God’s purposes against Jerusalem as He removes them from the promised land just as He said He would if they did not reflect the light into the world. Babylon: those who oppose truth, those who oppose grace, those who oppose life, and light, and holiness, and love and peace, and righteousness and (I could go on), Babylon pits itself against the God of creation. But that doesn’t make Isaiah any less burdened when He has to preach the eventual destruction of this kingdom.
And so it is true for us. We are a Law and Gospel people. The law is used by God to curb a life from walking in sin. And it is used to mirror back to us what we look like in all of our sinfulness (i.e. shows our sin). But as a pastor, and as witnesses to God, we never delight in the speaking of the law. We never delight in having to identify that something is wrong, is false, is darkness, is unloving, is selfish, even simply identifying something as broken in a person’s life. It is not a delight. Rather, it is a burden. But the burden that God gives us to speak law to someone comes out of a concern of love for them. A burning that God has placed in our hearts for the spiritual (and sometimes physical and emotional) well-being of that person. It is a holy burden.
Where we do rejoice is when, faced with that reality that the Law shows, the person responds like those 3,000 who heard Peter’s first sermon at Pentecost – “they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’” Because in that reality we can bring what does cause joy – the reminder of God’s forgiveness, love, and mercy. It is in that forgiveness, love, and mercy, that the real “Babylon” (sin death and hell) loses its grip.
When you are walking along side someone in the faith, and you need to address something in their life, don’t be afraid to address it. But remember to speak that truth in love – in that same patient love that the Father has for you … the same love He has for them.
Prayer: Father you speak both Law and Gospel to us. Both serve you by serving us for our good. Help me to receive both and to share both with my fellow disciples.