Saturday, 27 September 2014

(271) September 28: Isaiah 13-14 & Galatians 6

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.

To discover:­
As you read consider what we learn about God’s sovereign rule.

To ponder:
Yesterday we considered Assyria. But it was to be Babylon, who replaced Assyria as the superpower of the day, who would eventually conquer the southern kingdom of Judah and ship many of her people into exile. To this empire, Isaiah now turns.
            Shockingly, he calls the warriors of pagan nations God’s “holy ones” because they are set-apart to serve him. And they are to serve, as Assyria before them, in carrying out God’s wrath. But here this is not against his people. In context God is calling them to enter the Babylonian cities where key nobles live. Isaiah describes the noise of these nations being massed together by God for war, to destroy the whole country (13v1-5). The terror of the destruction that would ensue on this “day of the LORD” is then described (13v6-8). It is to make the land desolate and destroy sinners. And on that day, it is said even the stars, sun and moon will not show their light, and heaven and earth will tremble. This may be a metaphorical way of stressing the despair and death that will be felt, and God’s supremacy over the astrological bodies pagan people’s worshipped. But it may also be looking to the final judgement, implying that it will be marked by a sort of de-creation, before the new creation is brought into being. Here, Babylon may be being used as a paradigm for all society in opposition to God (as Rev 18). So God immediately declares how he will punish the world for its arrogant sin – no doubt that of assuming one can live independent of God, crediting only oneself with whatever is achieved (13v9-13).
            There is warning, then, in what follows, as to the seriousness of the final judgement. The impending judgement on Babylon is described in the most horrific terms. Many living in such a multi-cultural place will flee to their country of origin, whilst those captured will suffer all the terrors that come with war  - whether men, women or children (13v14-16). To this end, God will stir up the Medes (see Dan 5v30-31) who cannot be bought because they don’t care for riches. They will be merciless, causing Babylon, the most glorious of kingdoms, to be overthrown by God like Sodom and Gomorrah, never to be inhabited again by anything except wild animals (13v17-22).    
            This would have been a huge encouragement to the Jews when exiled in Babylon. And it gets better: Isaiah tells how God will show compassion on his people, choosing and resettling Israel in their land, with aliens from other nations uniting with them, and so uniting in the worship of God. Indeed, God is so sovereign, that he will cause nations to actually take them to their land, where they will serve God’s people as captives (14v1-2). The point is that the oppression of God’s people will be reversed, as was seen for a time after the return from exile. Moreover, we see Gentile and Jew now united by common faith in Christ; and will see them one day exercise authority over all others as they share in Christ’s judgement (Rev 2v26-27).
Isaiah continues that when the Jews receive relief from their bondage under the king of Babylon, they will taunt him, speaking of how their LORD has broken the ruling power of wicked rulers which subdued nations, how the subdued lands are therefore at peace and breaking into song in response, and how deceased leaders are readying themselves to welcome the king to the grave, speaking of how despite his pomp, he has been brought low and become weak (14v3-11). This is the fate of all leaders who fail to honour God in Christ, no matter how powerful.
            14v12-17 has been thought to describe Satan’s fall. If it does, it describes it as a pattern of the fall of Babylon’s king: His arrogance was to consider his power and authority equal to God’s, like a supreme angel. And so this great king in the eyes of the world, who was in some ways like an angel, has been humbled and brought to the grave, as the world looks on and ponders. Indeed, whereas other kings gain the honour of a tomb, he is denied that, being covered in death by those killed with him. The reason for this particular disgrace is striking: Not only did he destroy other nations, like every tyrant he destroyed his own land and people too. This is the mark of the worst of rulers. And because of it, God will rise up against his sons too, so they will not inherit the land or build cities elsewhere (14v18-23). These sons may well have done evil. However, the point is that God is ensuring the king’s authority is unable to be revived in any form. We should be in no doubt, the things the world esteem and aspires to, will one day be no more too. Moreover, the punishment of those who raise themselves above God by rejecting Christ will be total and everlasting. And it will be most severe for those who have been most arrogant and most evil (Lk 11v20-24, Lk 12v47-48).
            The sudden change to speak of “the Assyrian” – the king of the earlier oracles (14v24, see 10v5, 12), may simply be to say that what God will eventually do to the Babylonian king, he will soon do to the Assyrian one. This couldn’t be imagined by Israel, due to Assyria’s power. So on seeing it take place, the people would have been encouraged that the later Babylonian king could fall too. So God promises again that his plan will stand. The Assyrian king will be crushed in Israel itself, as his army is defeated (see 2 Kgs 19), and his burden taken from Judah. This is a plan for the whole known world of that day, as it was pretty much all under Assyrian rule. God is therefore showing that he is God of the whole earth, who determines its happenings and brings even its greatest rulers to account (14v25-27).
            The small oracle against the Philistines (14v28-32) tells them not to rejoice that the rule of one who struck them is broken. This may refer to king Ahaz of Judah (14v28). But the negative language of “snake” and of attack coming from the north makes an Assyrian ruler more likely, explaining why the oracle is placed here. Whichever is in mind, God is predicting that one of their descendents will lay siege to Philistine gates and cities as God’s judgement against them, and in order to enable the poor and needy in Jerusalem to live safe from Philistine threat. Once more then, we may be seeing God using the evil ambition of pagan peoples as his tool - here in protecting his people.

Praying it home:       
Praise God that he governs the decisions of even the most powerful people. Pray that he would use their decisions for the good of his people, especially where they are being oppressed.

Thinking further:
None today.

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