Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 22

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 22

Isaiah has been predicting defeat and capture for the nation but, just when his prophecy is at its darkest, a light begins to dawn. "Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress." (Isaiah 9:1a) Yesterday he warned the nation that times would come when the people would be distressed and hungry, roaming through the land, that they would look around them and see nothing but distress and darkness and fearful gloom. Assyria is coming to conquer the northern kingdom of Israel and to oppress the southern kingdom of Judah. The days will be very dark then. But there is a future day in which there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress.

The section of Isaiah's ministry we are currently studying is thought to have taken place during the reign of King Ahaz. We recall that Isaiah's ministry lasted through the reign of four kings, with Ahaz being the only wicked one of the four. Times are already dark in Judah when Isaiah preaches this message because the leadership is flawed. When a nation is being run by a sinful man, there will be discontent among the citizens, because a bad king makes bad decisions that affect the population. It's during this spiritually dark period of time that Isaiah speaks of a King who will come, One worthy for the government to rest upon His shoulders, One whose kingdom will be a kingdom of peace.

"In the past He humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future He will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan---" (Isaiah 9:1b) The tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali were the first to be conquered by Assyria. Galilee was situated in this northernmost area. There is some disagreement among scholars about its exact borders, but there is no question it was located in the upper region, the part of Israel where judgment fell first. In Isaiah's day Zebulun and Naphtali have not yet been "humbled" but he speaks of it as if it is already past, a common preaching method of the prophets. Isaiah sees it in his mind as if it has already happened and so he speaks of it in the past tense. In a sense it has already happened because the prophecy is certain; God has spoken and it is as good as done. Likewise, Isaiah sees the future King in his mind, and he speaks of Him by faith. Isaiah may not know when or how the King will emerge from Galilee, but we know it happened like this, "After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, 'Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child's life are dead.' So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judah in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that He would be called a Nazarene." (Matthew 2:19-23) 

Isaiah calls it "Galilee of the nations" or, in other versions of the Bible, "Galilee of the Gentiles". There was a large Roman garrison there in the days of Jesus and many Gentiles resided in the area. Gentiles were considered unclean by pious Jews because of their dietary habits and religious practices. No rabbi would have wanted to live in Galilee if he could possibly help it. Neither would a Pharisee, a Sadducee, or any other ultra-orthodox Jew. The area of Galilee and Nazareth was considered so sinful that later, when the disciple Phillip told Nathanael (who would also become a disciple) about Jesus, he said, "Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?" (John 1:46a) Yet the Lord chose this downtrodden region as the hometown of His own Son. The area which was the first to be humbled at the downfall of Israel will be the first to be honored when the light breaks through. Galilee has paid her penalty, has served her time, has endured the dark of night, and now the sun comes up.

When Isaiah preached this message a wicked and idolatrous king sat on David's throne but he assures the people that someday the One to whom the throne truly belongs will come. His kingdom will be holy and righteous and fair. And it will endure forever.

"The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of darkness a light has dawned." (Isaiah 9:2) Many of the citizens of Galilee were walking in darkness when Jesus began His ministry. There was a large population of idolatrous Gentiles there, conducting their wrong religious rituals, and they were having a bad influence on the Jews of the region. This is one reason why we find Jesus casting out demons in the northern territory of Judah. The occult practices of that area had ushered in a spiritual darkness. But just as the night is darkest right before the dawn, so also was Galilee darkest before the dawn. In another sense they were walking in darkness politically and nationally because they were held down by the iron fist of Rome in the time of Christ. They were not a free people and were suffering the oppression of martial law and exorbitant taxation. The future looked very dark for Israel but in the midst of their distress a great light appeared, the light of life. "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." (John 8:12) 

There will be a day when no war cry is ever heard in Israel. There will never again be the sound of soldiers' boots or rattling sabers. A righteous King will reign and there will be no distress in His kingdom. Tomorrow we will move into a description of His glorious kingdom and will study one of the most well-known passages of Isaiah: a Child will be born of the house of David. He will be the Prince of Peace. His government and His peace will never end. 

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