Saturday, June 25, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 4

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 4

After providing a beautiful vision of the future of Jerusalem when her King will reign forever, Isaiah moves back into the present time to predict the coming downfall of Jerusalem and Judah.

Isaiah makes this prophecy while the nation is threatened by Assyria but it won't be Assyria who accomplishes her downfall; it will be Babylon. Babylon isn't yet the superpower it will later become. In Isaiah's time there is friendship between Judah and Babylon; Assyria is the one they both fear. When the Lord hands down the frightful prophecy in today's passage, the people of the land likely think the danger is from the current enemy. "See now, the Lord, the Lord Almighty, is about to take from Jerusalem and Judah both supply and support; all supplies of food and all supplies of water, the hero and the warrior, the judge and the prophet, the diviner and the elder, the captain of fifty and the man of rank, the counselor, skilled craftsman and clever enchanter." (Isaiah 3:1-3) 

Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon will make three campaigns against Judah during the last years of the kings. He will take two of the final kings back to Babylon with him. He will also take everyone from Judah who possesses any skills that are useful, leaving only the very poorest people in the land to till the soil and tend the vineyards. Before the downfall of Jerusalem, the Babylonian forces will lay siege to the city for about ten months, during which time the people run out of food. The Lord is being merciful to give this prophecy in a time when the people assume disaster is imminent at the hands of Assyria. Giving the prophecy now makes it seem urgent that they repent right away. It will actually be more than a hundred years before Babylon conquers Judah. The prophecy is given far enough in advance for the people to repent and turn back to the Lord. Had they done so, I believe Babylon would not have been able to conquer them. 

The Lord says this will happen in Judah's last years, "'I will make youths their officials; children will rule over them.'" (Isaiah 3:4) After the death of the last good king, King Josiah, the kings who succeeded him were young and inexperienced and reigned for only a short time. Josiah's son Jehoahaz reigned for just three months before he was taken prisoner by Pharaoh Necho of Egypt. Pharaoh put Jehoahaz's brother Jehoiakim on the throne in his place, and though he managed to reign for eleven years, during that time he had no real power because he was subject to Egypt. His son Jehoiachin succeeded him but only reigned three months before Nebuchadnezzar came and took him and all his family captive, along with about ten thousand citizens. Nebuchadnezzar placed Jehoiachin's uncle Zedekiah on the throne for the next eleven years but he too had no power and was under the authority of Babylon. He decided to ally himself with Egypt and rebel against Babylon and it was during his reign that the ten-month siege occurred and Jerusalem fell. The leadership during those years was weak and ineffective, so the Lord refers to the officials as children.

"People will oppress each other---man against man, neighbor against neighbor. The young will rise up against the old, the nobody against the honored." (Isaiah 3:5) The young people will have no regard for their elders. The wise and godly men will be ridiculed, the prophets scorned and persecuted. I believe we're seeing a similar trend in our own times, with Christianity being mocked as outdated and irrelevant. When I was a kid in the 1970's people still respected Christians. Even unbelievers admired people who strove to live godly lives. As my pastor said Wednesday night, there once was a time when even the most degenerate thief wouldn't dare steal from the house of God, but now we have security guards at our church because churches are being broken into and robbed. Regard for Christians and for Christian institutions has broken down because regard for Christ has broken down. 

In the days after defeat, the people of Judah will be confused and disorganized, unable to think what to do next, with no clear line of leadership. "A man will seize one of his brothers in his father's house, and say, 'You have a cloak, you be our leader; take charge of this heap of ruins!' But in that day he will cry out, 'I have no remedy. I have no food or clothing in my house; do not make me the leader of the people.'" (Isaiah 3:6-7) Suffering from the blows of being attacked and defeated in battle three times in a row by Babylon, a man who still possesses a cloak will be looked up to. He has managed to hang on to an item of his personal belongings; perhaps he will be strong enough to lead the family or even the citizens who remain. But he has retained his outer cloak because he was looking out for himself. He has no interest in leading the people and looking out for them. It's all he can do to provide for his family and that's all he is concerned with. This example is given to show us that in Judah's final days there will be no man of courage, no man with the national pride to try and make something out of what remains. There will be no mighty men like David who, when still a youth, said of the giant Goliath, "Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?" (1 Samuel 17:26b) 

The Lord now compares the people of Jerusalem and Judah to a drunken man staggering blearily down the road, blurry-eyed and confused. "Jerusalem staggers, Judah is falling; their words and deeds are against the Lord, defying His glorious presence. The look on their faces testifies against them; they parade their sin like Sodom; they do not hide it. Woe to them! They have brought disaster upon themselves." (Isaiah 3:8-9) We see the same attitudes in our day as Isaiah saw in his. It used to be that sins were concealed if at all possible. People didn't want it known they were associated with this or that scandal or habit. But in our day we see the attitude of, "Yes, I do (this or that) all the time! So what? What are you going to do about it?" Before Judah's downfall the Lord observed the smirk of pride on the faces of those breaking His commandments. He heard the citizens boasting of how they cheated somebody in business or how they slept with their neighbor's wife or how they stole food from the poor widow down the road. They had been living far from God for so long that their consciences never spoke up anymore. They had tamped down the uncomfortable awareness of sin for so long that, instead of feeling shame, they actually took pride in their debauchery and injustice. 

The people are staggering like a drunken man who can't find his way home. They have lost their sense of direction, their moral compass, and so they grope blindly in the darkness. This is a sharp contrast to the life of David, who wrote of his clearly marked path and the sturdiness of the trail under his feet. "It is God who arms me with strength and keeps my way secure. He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; He causes me to stand on the heights. He trains my hands for battle; my arms can bend a bow of bronze. You make Your saving help my shield, and Your right hand sustains me; Your help has made me great. You provide a broad path for my feet, so that my ankles do not give way." (Psalm 18:32-36) In Isaiah's time the people of Judah have forgotten the One who made them great; they believe they made themselves great. This is why, when Babylon swoops down on them with a mighty army, they will not be able to say as David said, "I pursued my enemies and overtook them; I did not turn back till they were destroyed. I crushed them so that they could not rise; they fell beneath my feet. You armed me with strength for battle; You humbled my adversaries before me. You made my enemies turn their backs in flight, and I destroyed my foes." (Psalm 18:37-40)

Isaiah's prophecy of the coming disaster may not have frightened those who had turned their backs on God but it surely frightened those who had remained faithful to Him. The Lord has comforting words for those who love Him, "Tell the righteous it will be well with them, for they will enjoy the fruit of their deeds." (Isaiah 3:10) These words comfort me all these thousands of years later. I fear the time will come when the Lord will judge America for how far she has fallen from Him. I don't know what form that judgment may take. Our economy might collapse. Terrorist attacks may increase. A nation might declare war on us. America may even fall and be subject to a foreign country. But I take heart in these words, "Tell the righteous it will be well with them." It comforts me to know the eyes of God are on those who belong to Him in Christ and He will look out for us.

"Woe to the wicked! Disaster is upon them! They will be paid back for what their hands have done." (Isaiah 3:11) The wicked are the ones who have rejected the Lord's authority over them. The nation is neck-deep in idolatry in the days of Isaiah. Not only have they spurned the God who led them out of Egypt and made them into a great nation, but they have adopted abominable pagan deities in His place.

The Apostle Paul clearly outlined the principle we are seeing in today's passage when he said, "Do not be deceived; God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows." (Galatians 6:7) When Jerusalem falls, the godly will reap what they have sown. It will go well with them. But the ungodly will reap what they have sown. Disaster will be upon them. 

These are sobering words for any time in history. It's so important in our day to pray for America, to pray for our government leaders and for our religious leaders, to show the love of Christ to our fellow man and to get the gospel out to our nation and to the whole world. I don't believe it's too late to avoid disaster but I do believe our continued success depends on honoring the Lord. We can be like David who was quick to acknowledge his mistakes and repent of them. We can be like David who was always willing to bow his knees to God. Then we too can say, "It is God who arms me with strength and keeps my way secure." 

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