Monday, 29 September 2014

(273) September 30: Isaiah 19-21 & Ephesians 2

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

To discover:­
As you read consider how trust in nations is being undermined.

To ponder:
The oracle against Egypt begins with God riding to Egypt on a cloud like a king on his chariot into battle. The idols tremble, stressing God’s supremacy over Egypt’s false gods. And the hearts of the Egyptians melt, showing how such a seemingly powerful nation should nevertheless fear Israel’s God. God promises to stir up strife between different segments of Egypt’s population. Despondent, and unable to fulfil their plans, perhaps to rectify the situation, they will consult their idols and spirits, who will prove impotent; and the LORD will hand them over to a cruel and fierce king – perhaps an Egyptian tyrant, of one from another nation (19v1-4). The Nile was the source of life and industry to Egypt. But Isaiah pictures it dried up, with the canals that irrigate the land smelling, and the vegetation therefore withering, fishermen unable to catch fish, and weavers of flax (a plant) unable to work (19v5-10). So God’s judgement is seen in civil strife, potential oppression by a foreign power and natural disaster affecting the land. Moreover, Egypt was well known for her wisdom and knowledge, but in all this her wise men are proved useless being unable to predict what God is going to do. Instead God will cause them to give bad counsel, leading Egypt astray and causing her to stagger like a drunk, helpless (19v11-15). If Judah was tempted to look to Egypt for help against Assyria, this oracle would show the foolishness of doing so. Instead, it urges her to trust only God. Similarly, when we consider how subject all peoples and nations are to his will, we are moved to do the same.
            The regular refrain of these oracles then occurs: “In that day,” ie, the day of God’s judgement on Egypt, the people will be terrified at the hand of God raised against them. It may be in this sense that the mention of Judah brings them fear – not because of any military attack, but because the LORD is Judah’s God. On the contrary, in the light of that fear, many of Egypt are pictured as joining with Israel. As with so much prophetic speech, what follows is probably metaphorical. So five cities (out of 30,000) sharing Canaan’s language and swearing allegiance to the LORD shows that a small but significant section of Egypt will come to faith in God, including even those from the city dedicated to Egypt’s sun god (19v16-18, see footnote). So there will be aspects of true worship in the pagan Egypt, and some will cry out to him when oppressed, and find he sends a saviour. By this means God will make himself known to the Egyptians, bringing disaster (the metaphorical plague) and then rescuing them from it (healing them), causing them to offer him true worship (19v19-22).
Whether or not this had a literal fulfilment soon after Isaiah, it surely points to those from Egypt coming to faith in Christ, and so is fulfilled by Christians there today. Indeed, what follows is a picture of Egypt and Assyria united in worship of the LORD, bringing blessing to the earth with Israel, and being described equally with Israel as God’s people, handiwork and inheritance (19v23-25)! This would have been astonishing to Jews, in fear of these great powers. But nothing is beyond the LORD. And so this is fulfilled in the uniting of Gentile and Jew in Christ as God’s means of bringing blessing to the world as they do good and share the gospel, fulfilling God’s promise to Abraham (Gen 12v1-3). Again, in the prophecy the events of Isaiah’s day are compacted with those spanning the two comings of Christ.
            20v1-6 can be dated 713BC, when Assyria attacked the Israeli town of Ashdod. Prophets were sometimes called to act out their prophecies. So by going about almost totally naked (probably still wearing a loincloth) for three years, Isaiah is providing a dramatized sign that Assyria will lead Egyptians and Cushites into exile, stripped and humiliated. 20v5-6 therefore warns Israel in a time of fear against trusting in these countries for help against Assyria, rather than trusting God. When Assyria conquers these nations, those who have relied on them will be made afraid because they will then lack protection, and put to shame for so failing to trust the LORD. Let’s not be those who trust anyone or anything for salvation and ultimate help, but Christ.
            It is uncertain what “desert by the sea” refers to (21v1), but the oracle that follows is against Babylon, so it probably describes the Mesopotamian region. It speaks of Media coming to invade like a destructive whirlwind and lay siege to Babylon (see Dan 5v30-31). The time is marked by treachery in the city as people make the most of the opportunity for their own gain. But this is God at work, bringing an end to all the grief Babylon has caused in her oppression of others (21v1-2). At this point Isaiah powerfully describes his horror at the vision he is witnessing, even though he longed for judgement on Babylon. He therefore calls the Babylonian officers to get up from their feasting to prepare for battle (21v3-5). In the dramatic vision, God tells Isaiah to post a lookout, probably in Israel, to look for those coming with news of Babylon’s fall. After some time in post, he then reports the news that the city has fallen and its gods lie shattered (21v6-9). 21v10 tells us this message was one from God for when the Jews lay crushed like grain on the threshing floor, no doubt under Babylonian oppression after the exile. As Christians suffer the same under persecution, they too can be sure that one day their oppressors will be called to account (see Rev 18). Yet like, Isaiah, they should still feel compassion at the horror this will entail for their tormentors.
            Perhaps in this same context, 21v11-12 promises morning, and so relief, for Edom. But the call to come back to the watchman to ask how long, stresses the need to wait patiently during the time of night, and so hardship. There is wisdom here as we await Christ’s return.
            21v13-17 clarifies that those in Arabia will be caught up in the turmoil predicted in these oracles. Whether referring to the oppression by Assyria or Babylon, it calls those travelling in Arabia to provide for the refugees fleeing through their lands. Yet Isaiah also predicts, as certainly as if God had entered a contract, that within a year the pomp of the Arabian city or peoples titled “Kedar” will also be destroyed, with only a remnant of their warriors surviving. Notable here, is that although the fugitives are fleeing to some extent under God’s judgement, he still calls people to care for them. How much more should the believer care for all who are needy, suffering the consequences of God’s curse on all humanity.
Praying it home:       
Praise God that that the darkness of the world as it is will one day pass into the morning of the world to come. Pray for wisdom about how you might provide relief to those suffering the hardships of this present time.

Thinking further:
None today.

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