Tuesday, 30 September 2014

(274) October 1: Isaiah 21-23 & Ephesians 3

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 the security of any nation should be unsettled by these oracles.

To ponder:
The reference to Jerusalem’s deliverance with the phrase “Valley of Vision” suggests it might refer to the valley where the Assyrian army were camped outside Jerusalem before withdrawing (22v5,7, 2 Kgs 19). The oracle begins with people of Jerusalem on their roofs, and Isaiah asking why they are there at a time the town is full of revelry, perhaps celebrating the withdrawal. At this point he seems to look ahead to a contrasting picture of people slain not by sword, perhaps suggesting a siege, and the people and their leaders fleeing and captured. On seeing this he asks people not to console him as he is so distraught at what will happen to his people (22v1-4). Here Isaiah could be seeing the future destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon (2 Kgs 25). But the lesson is that God’s work in our lives should not breed complacency. Rather, we are in need of genuine repentance, so that having been delivered in the short term we do not end up destroyed in the end.
Isaiah then seems to describe the recent crisis as a day of tumult in the valley. This may refer to those living outside Jerusalem being terrorised by the enemy allies, with village walls battered down and cries carrying to mountains as Judah’s defences are stripped away and the valleys filled with soldiers ready to take the capital (22v5-8). It may even refer to some preliminary moves against the city. Isaiah’s point is that the people’s priorities in responding to this were wrong: They sought weapons in “the Palace of the Forest” (the room in the temple where weapons were kept), they stored water for a siege, they strengthened the wall with bricks form houses, and they built a reservoir. But what they didn’t do is look to God, who made water and planned what was coming to pass (22v9-11). He had looked for them to call on him in heartfelt repentance, asking for deliverance. But instead they just assumed they would die and indulged in an hedonistic frenzy (22v12-13). God promises that this sin of blind refusal to look to him in faith will never be atoned for. Rather the people will be held to account.
Here he singles out Shebna, the palace steward, who at the time of the vision was preparing a prominent grave for himself. God declares that he will never be able to use it, but will be hurled away from the land to die in a large country – no doubt a reference to him (and his chariots) being taken away by an enemy at some point. Moreover, God will give his role, authority and uniform of office to another, who like a dependable tent peg will care for the city and kingdom, control access to the king, gain the sort of honour Shebna wanted, and be the means by which his own family will receive glory (22v14-24). Nevertheless, God declares that even this successor will give way and all relying on him be cut down. This may also refer to Babylon’s destruction of the city in generations to come, which would have cut off Eliakim’s line. But we learn through it that only God is dependable. In all difficulty, and especially in combating sin and death, our first response should be repentant prayer, not practical steps to help ourselves. Indeed, those who faithlessly don’t look to God at all will be cut off on the last day just like Shebna.
Whereas the oracle against Babylon on the eastern edge of the known world began Isaiah’s declarations of judgement against the nations, he finishes with one against Tyre, the great city on the western edge. It begins with its merchant ships receiving news from Cyprus that Tyre is destroyed so they have no homes or harbour to return to. The people of the Tyre area who have materially gained so much from trade with the nations are called to be silent and ashamed (23v2-4). The sense is that that God’s judgement is right and a word cannot be said against it. The meaning of the sea speaking of how it has not given birth to children is unclear, but may be stressing that whereas Tyre had given birth to colonies, it is no more, whilst the sea remains (23v4). Because of Tyre’s fame, as the word spread, so does anguish – to Egypt. Perhaps this is anguish at the goods they will no longer be able to buy. And there is shock too. The traders who now have no home to go to are told to cross the sea to Tarshish and mourn there. There they are stunned. Can it really be that this joyous, ancient city, from which so many travelled, is destroyed (23v6-7)? It’s a reminder that no city or country has a guarantee that it will remain.
The question is who planned this for such an esteemed city. The answer of course is the LORD, because he humbles those throughout the earth who proudly glorify themselves (23v9). There is warning here to successful, prosperous and esteemed cultures. 23v10 is uncertain but may be calling Tarshish to work her own land because she can no longer rely on Tyre for the imports she needs. What is clear is that by witnessing the destruction of such a famed city within Phoenicia (modern Lebanon), the LORD causes all kingdoms to tremble in uncertainty over their fate (23v10-12). And there is no rest or peace for the traders from Tyre, as every country is therefore under threat. So even if they travelled to Cyprus, they would live in fear, for the Assyrians had even decimated Babylon, turning it into a ruin for desert animals. Those in their ships really did therefore have good reason to wail at the destruction of the great fortress of Tyre (23v12-14).
Yet 23v15-18 gives hope: A known song is used to teach that after 70 years Tyre will woo those who love her goods again, and so prostitute herself by giving what she has away for money to the kingdoms of the known world of the day. What is striking, however, is that her profits won’t be horded, but set-apart for God’s use, being a means his people, like Israel’s priests, would be provided with abundant food and fine clothes. The most obvious implication is that those within Tyre will come to faith in the LORD and so benefit from her prosperity, as has happened at times in the history of the church. It may also allude to the glory of the nations being brought into the new creation (Rev 21v26). Then, God’s people will somehow benefit from all the achievements of human culture.
Praying it home:       
Praise God that that his kingdom endures and cannot be shaken. Pray for a realisation within western culture of the fragility of what is so often boasted in.

Thinking further:
None today.

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