Sunday, 28 September 2014

(272) September 29: Isaiah 15-18 & Ephesians 1

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.

To ponder:
Moab was one of Israel’s historic enemies (Num 25). The oracle continues the section dealing with God’s judgements against the nations, affirming that in this life he may sometimes judge non-Christian peoples and rulers for their evil and arrogance.
            Moabite cities will be destroyed in a night, and the people of Dibon will go to their pagan temple and high places of worship to mourn (head and beard shaved) the destruction of other towns. Such mourning will take place throughout towns, with even soldiers crying (15v1-4). And God will too! 15v5 may describe Isaiah as he considers what is probably a vision of Moab’s destruction. But the “I” bringing further disaster (15v9) suggests God is the speaker throughout. So it is his “heart” that cries out in seeing the grief of the Moabite fugitives, as he takes no delight in punishing sin. The land is pictured as dry and barren, with refugees carrying their wealth as they cross a key ravine. It seems this marks them leaving the land as their outcry is said to echo along the border, noting it is heard the whole length of the country. Yet despite his compassion on this situation, God must act in justice, and so promises that although the Dimon river’s waters are already full of blood, still more will come. Indeed, the fugitives escaping and those who remain will be attacked by a “lion” – probably a reference to a foreign oppressor (15v6-9). We are right to feel the tension between God’s love and justice, as it reflects his own heart. But we are very wrong to think it might mean he won’t act justly. Sin will be punished, even if God punishes through metaphorical tears.
            16v1-2 picture the refugees in “Sela” (possibly a fortress in Edom), from which God urges them to send tribute to the king of Zion to allow them to settle in Judah. In this sense, the Moabite women (no doubt, the men are left fighting) at the river Arnon on the edge of Israel are like fluttering birds God has pushed from their nest in Moab. They beg for a decision from Israel, longing for shelter like a shadow at the hottest part of the day (16v3-4a). And at this point God again promises that those he has used to judge Moab will themselves be destroyed, and God’s Davidic king will reign in justice and righteousness. The “love and faithfulness” here may refer to the king’s qualities, but more likely God’s attributes, expressing his care in establishing his king not just for his covenant people but the world (16v4-5). The point is that the Moabites, as with all peoples, will only find justice against their oppressors and true shelter in Christ.
            The common knowledge of Moab’s pride and boasting is then noted, and it is clarified that this is the reason for the destruction that has led to her grief and the trampling of her famous vines by the kings of other nations (16v6-8). Astonishingly we then read of God himself sobbing from his innermost being because he has had to put an end to the joy that was known at Moabite harvests (16v9-11). He delights to give joy and the blessings of creation even to sinners who don’t know him, and is profoundly moved in having to remove them. Nevertheless, again we see he must judge, affirming that it is pointless for Moab to wear themselves out at their praying to their false gods (16v12). Indeed, he states that within three years her splendour will be despised and she will be left with few survivors – and this is as certain as if he were bound by contract (16v13-14). How certain too, is the final judgement Jesus promised will come, even though God brings it reluctantly.
            The oracle against Damascus moves quickly to a denunciation of northern Israel (Ephraim), suggesting it might have come at a time when Syria and Israel were allies. Damascus and other cities in the vicinity will be destroyed and deserted, with the fortified cities of Ephraim removed so she has no security, with the power taken from Damascus too. And so those left in Aram (Syria) will be insignificant like the glory of Israel which will have faded, as the people are removed like corn at harvest, with only a few gleanings left (17v1-6, see 2 Kgs 17). God declares that only then will people look to him rather than their idols. Yet, because of their sin, their strongest cities will be desolate. And this is all because the people forgot their saviour and fortress, seen by them planting imported vines, rather than trusting God to bring fruitfulness to their land as he promised in his covenant (Deut 28-30). They will therefore receive none of their harvest, but, instead, disease and pain too (17v7-11). Here we see how, in the midst if hardship, God may bring those who have forgotten him to look to him again.
            17v12-14 seems to be a sudden reflection on the raging of the nations that are going to bring the destruction Isaiah has detailed, as judgement, like the waters of the flood. The point is that they serve God’s purpose. And so when he rebukes them, they will be driven away as easily as chaff or tumble-weed in the wind. This, Isaiah says, is the portion those who loot God’s people will receive. Once more then, we see that God will punish the very nations he used to punish others.
            Chapter 18 doesn’t necessarily pronounce judgement on Cush (modern Sudan and Ethiopia), but speaks a warning. Understanding the detail is difficult. Just as Cush was known for its many insects, so its many envoys seem to have come to Jerusalem, where they are called to go and fly back to its people, who were known as being aggressive and feared (18v1-2). The sense is that they are to inform them of what is about to happen. 18v3 may refer to the world witnessing God’s banner and trumpet as he is about to act, but in the flow of the chapter seem most likely a reference to Assyria advancing. It is possible they are advancing against Cush, but perhaps more likely they are advancing against Zion, with Cush being called to witness it. And as the world looks on, so will the LORD, quietly, holding back from acting until the last minute, when he will cut the Assyrians down like a crop just before it reaches its goal in harvest (18v4-6, see 2 Kgs 19). In response, the Cushites are said to bring gifts as tribute to God in Zion. The point is that by witnessing his mighty acts those from the world will come to honour him.

Praying it home:       
Praise God that his love is such that he takes no pleasure in punishing sin. Pray that you would never forget him.

Thinking further:
None today.

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