Thursday, August 11, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 44

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 44

Yesterday we learned that the people of Moab sought refuge in Judah when it became clear Assyria intended to invade their nation. However, certain conditions would have to be met if they wanted to live among a godly people. During the years of Isaiah's ministry, there were four kings of Judah, only one of which was considered ungodly. Judah had not yet fallen into the depths of idolatry to which her sister Israel had fallen and the Moabites would have had to observe all the laws of Judah's God, forsaking their own pagan gods. It would appear from today's section that the Moabites were unwilling to submit to God or to His laws and instead turned to their own gods for help.

Pride evidently kept the people of Moab from finding refuge at Jerusalem because they would not bow their knees to the Lord. "We have heard of Moab's pride---how great is her arrogance!---of her conceit, her pride and her insolence; but her boasts are empty." (Isaiah 16:6) The prophet Jeremiah said something quite similar, "'We have heard of Moab's pride---how great is her arrogance!---of her insolence, her pride, her conceit and the haughtiness of her heart. I know her insolence but it is futile,' declares the Lord, 'and her boasts will accomplish nothing.'" (Jeremiah 48:29-30) Moab, actually a rather small nation, boasted of her power and glory. But what was her army compared to the Assyrian army? Furthermore, what was her army compared to the power of the living God? "How can you say, 'We are warriors, men valiant in battle?' Moab will be destroyed and her towns invaded; her finest young men will go down in the slaughter,' declares the King, whose name is the Lord Almighty." (Jeremiah 48:14-15) 

Because Moab clings to her pride, "Therefore the Moabites wail, they wail together for Moab. Lament and grieve for the raisin cakes of Kir Hareseth. The fields of Heshbon wither, the vines of Sibmah also. The rulers of the nations have trampled down the choicest vines, which once reached Jazer and spread toward the desert. Their shoots spread out and went as far as the sea." (Isaiah 16:7-8) In the book of Jeremiah the Lord said, "The destroyer has fallen on your ripened fruit and grapes. Joy and gladness are gone from the orchards and fields of Moab. I have stopped the flow of wine from the presses; no one treads them with shouts of joy. Although there are shouts, they are not shouts of joy." (Jeremiah 48:33) A major source of Moab's pride must have been her fertile land. We see fields and vines mentioned here along with desirable delicacies such as raisins. They had a very successful agricultural society and they must have allowed the bounty of their land to seduce them into thinking they didn't need the bounty of the Lord.

Isaiah speaks of weeping over the ruined land and, by extension, I believe this is the Lord's weeping. It hurts Him to discipline a wayward people. "So I weep, as Jazer weeps, for the vines of Sibmah. Heshbon and Elealeh, I drench you with tears!" (Isaiah 16:9a) The Lord weeps over stubborn pride. The Moabites could have come to Jerusalem and bowed their knees to the Lord and they would have found refuge among His people. But they have said no, choosing instead to go their own way, and so the Lord cries for them.

"The shouts of joy over your ripened fruit and over your harvests have been stilled. Joy and gladness are taken away from the orchards; no one sings or shouts in the vineyards; no one treads out wine at the presses, for I have put an end to the shouting." (Isaiah 16:9b-10) The words the Lord gives Isaiah echo the words He gave Jeremiah. Harvest time is usually a time of merriment. But when Moab's calamity falls on her, she will reap no harvest. She will sing no songs about the fruit of the vine. 

The Lord's heart is broken at the sight of the Moabites seeking help at pagan altars rather than seeking help from Him. "My heart laments for Moab like a harp, my inmost being for Kir Hareseth. When Moab appears at her high place, she only wears herself out; when she goes to her shrine to pray, it is to no avail." (Isaiah 16:11-12) This passage reminds me of our study of the kings, when Elijah faced down the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. The prophets of Baal cried out to their god all day long, dancing wildly and finally even cutting themselves in a frenzy until they were exhausted. But Baal didn't answer. Baal couldn't answer. He did not exist except as an instrument of deception by Satan. In the day of their trouble we find the Moabites going up to the hilltop shrines, praying to their gods until they are ready to fall over from exhaustion, but nobody answers them. No help is forthcoming from her idols. The One who is willing and able to help them has been stretching out merciful hands but they have turned their backs to Him. Chemosh, the chief god of the Moabites, is mentioned by Jeremiah, "Since you trust in your deeds and riches, you too will be taken captive, and Chemosh will go into exile, together with his priests and officials." (Jeremiah 48:7) The false god Chemosh won't be able to save himself, much less save the Moabites. This is why Jeremiah warns Moab that a day is coming when she will be ashamed of Chemosh. (Jeremiah 48:13) She will be ashamed of this god who didn't come to her rescue. So the Lord says, "Woe to you, Moab! The people of Chemosh are destroyed; your sons are taken into exile and your daughters into captivity." (Jeremiah 48:46) The Moabites are called the people of Chemosh because their allegiance is to him. They cannot be called the children of God because they do not belong to Him. The offer to become part of the family of God was extended to them but they rejected it. 

"This is the word the Lord has already spoken concerning Moab. But now the Lord says: 'Within three years, as a servant bound by contract would count them, Moab's splendor and all her many people will be despised, and her survivors will be very few and feeble.'" (Isaiah 16:13-14) Up til this time the Lord has sent prophecies against Moab without giving a specific timeline. But now the time is at hand. So He is saying something like, "You can go ahead and write this on your calendar. Just as an indentured servant marks off the days of his contract, you can start marking off the days of these three years before the fall of Moab." 

In the midst of these woes there is a message of hope for the people of Moab. "'Yet I will restore the fortunes of Moab in days to come,' declares the Lord." (Jeremiah 48:47a) The Moabites who were not taken to Assyria were likely taken later to Babylon, where they would have remained until the Persians conquered Babylon. It's at this point that Moab, as both a people and a nation, disappears from history. We know that Cyrus of Persia allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem if they wanted to go. He may have set the Moabites free as well, with their small remnant returning to their homeland. But many scholars believe this is a prophecy for when Christ will reign from Jerusalem and all the nations will serve Him. In those days, believers of every people and tribe will find their refuge in Him, including believing descendants of the Moabites. We may not be able to trace the genealogy of the Moabites down to our time in history, but the Lord knows who they are, and He is able to redeem Moab's descendants just as He redeemed a Moabite woman (Ruth) and placed her in the lineage of His own Son. 

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