Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 15

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 15

King Ahaz has made up his mind to appeal to Assyria for help against Israel and Aram but in today's passage the Lord warns him through the prophet Isaiah that this is a mistake. 

We find an account of Ahaz's alliance with Tiglath-Pileser of Assyria in 1 Kings 16, "Ahaz sent messengers to say to Tiglath-Pileser king of of Assyria, 'I am your servant and vassal. Come up and save me out of the hand of the king of Aram and of the king of Israel, who are attacking me.' And Ahaz took the silver and gold found in the temple of the Lord and in the treasuries of the royal palace and sent it as a gift to the king of Assyria. The king of Assyria complied by attacking Damascus and capturing it. He deported its inhabitants to Kir and put Rezin to death." (2 Kings 16:7-9) Ahaz gave consecrated temple items to this pagan king instead of trusting the words of the Lord. In return, Tiglath-Pileser captured Damascus, the capitol of Aram, and killed King Rezin, Judah's enemy. This is likely something Tiglath-Pileser would have done anyway. He was already at war with Aram and Israel. If Ahaz had trusted the Lord and waited, things would have worked out without him lifting a finger. King Rezin would still have fallen to Assyria's sword and Israel would still have been conquered by Sargon II, Tiglath-Pileser's son. 

The alliance drags Ahaz deeper into sin. Because of this new friendship, Ahaz travels to Damascus to meet and thank the Assyrian king, and there he sees an altar that appeals to him. He sends sketches of its design back to the high priest Uriah who constructs an altar just like it in Jerusalem. Upon his return from Damascus, Ahaz began to perform all his worship at the new altar and makes the priests and citizens do likewise. All the offerings brought to the temple were now given to the foreign deity instead of to the Lord. (2 Kings 16:10-20) It won't be until his son Hezekiah takes the throne that real worship in the temple is restored. 

We see here that when Ahaz rejected the Lord's offer of a sign and His offer to become a man of faith, he fell even further into apostasy. A few days ago we studied about the hearts of the people becoming calloused because they were resisting the pleading of the prophets and I think the heart of Ahaz became exceptionally hard after the Lord sent Isaiah to reason with him. The more we say no to God and the more we persist in stubbornness, the harder it is for anything to get through to us. Ahaz was already a man enchanted with idolatry; now he gives himself wholeheartedly to it. 

The alliance with Assyria is not going to be a warm and fuzzy friendship. The Assyrians were known for being brutal to their subjects, not treating them as allies but as their own property. Though Jerusalem will actually end up falling to Babylon, Assyria will trouble Judah to the point that her economy and her agriculture are severely affected. Assyria will conquer Aram, then Israel, then will march on to destroy the countryside of Judah and lay siege to Jerusalem. Only because the Assyrian king hears that a large army is coming up from Egypt against him will he turn away from Jerusalem and face off with Pharaoh. But from the time Ahaz makes his alliance with Assyria until Assyria is eventually downtrodden by Babylon, the people will be oppressed by the nation they hoped would rescue them from their enemies. 

Isaiah lets Ahaz know what is coming as a result of his poor decision, "In that day the Lord will whistle for flies from the Nile delta in Egypt and for bees from the land of Assyria. They will all come and settle in the steep ravines and in the crevices in the rocks, on all the thornbushes and at all the water holes. In that day the Lord will use a razor hired from beyond the Euphrates River---the king of Assyria---to shave your head and private parts, and to cut off your beard also. In that day, a person will keep alive a young cow and two goats. And because of the abundance of milk they give, there will be curds to eat. All who remain in the land will eat curds and honey. In that day, in every place where there were a thousand vines worth a thousand silver shekels, there will be only briers and thorns. Hunters will go there with bow and arrow, for the land will be covered with briers and thorns. As for all the hills once cultivated by the hoe, you will no longer go there for fear of the briers and thorns; they will become places where cattle are turned loose and where sheep run." (Isaiah 7:18-25) Both Egypt and Assyria will oppress Judah in her final years, humiliating her and treating her like a slave. Judah's last kings will be puppet-kings. And although Jerusalem itself will never fall to Assyria, various parts of the nation will be attacked and plundered a number of times with many of the people of the outlying areas being taken captive. Ahaz's son Hezekiah will fortify the walls of Jerusalem and make the city more secure than ever, but the rural territories will not be safe. Men won't be able to go about the business of tending their vineyards and planting their fields. People will be living off dairy products and whatever they can hunt or gather. The untended vineyards and fields will become impenetrable tangles of briers and thorns and weeds. In the time of Sennacherib king of Assyria, he will seize and take captive over 200,000 people of the Judean countryside, so we can well understand why agriculture came to a standstill. It was safer to hunt game in the forests than try to grow crops out in the open. 

The alliance which looks so attractive in Ahaz's time is going to be like a snake that turns and bites the one holding it. He won't live to see how bad things are going to get but he has set terrible events in motion for his son and grandchildren and for all the people of the nation. Judah is in her death throes, though it will take another century for her to breathe her last, but the kingdom began to die on the day Ahaz rejected the help of the Lord. Even so, all is not lost. God is not finished with Judah and He is not finished with Israel. In the book of Isaiah, signs will be given of the future glory of these people. Prophecies will be made concerning a righteous King of Judah, an eternal king, and the One of whom Isaiah says, "of the greatness of His government and peace there will be no end". (Isaiah 9:7)

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