Saturday, August 20, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 53

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 53

As we begin Chapter 21, Isaiah is back to proclaiming disaster for Babylon. After he finishes with them in the first half of Chapter 21, he will go on to make predictions against Edom and Arabia. Today we will look at the beginning of Chapter 21 and some background history of the conflict between Babylon and Assyria. 

"A prophecy against the Desert by the Sea: Like whirlwinds sweeping through the southland, an invader comes from the desert, from a land of terror." (Isaiah 21:1) Isaiah doesn't begin this tale by calling Babylon but name but by the time he gets to the end of the story he will make it clear which nation he's talking about. He calls it in verse one "the Desert by the Sea", because Babylon was situated in a desert plain near the Euphrates River and the people irrigated the land by building canals from the river. This enabled them to survive well in the region, just as Egypt flourished with waters from the Nile. Yesterday Isaiah finished telling Judah not to trust in Cush or Egypt for help against Assyria, proclaiming their coming calamities. So today he doesn't want anyone to say, "Okay, bad things are coming to Cush and Egypt, so we need to mark them off our list. But Babylon is becoming quite a threat to Assyria. Maybe we need to join with Babylon." Isaiah wants to cut off the possibility of Judah turning to Babylon for aid because in the days of King Sennacherib of Assyria, (who will be the king who sends an army regiment against Jerusalem during King Hezekiah's reign), he will most forcefully put down Babylon's rebellion. In fact, Sennacherib's victory over Babylon will be so decisive that it will appear he has put that nation down for good, although as we know from Bible study and from history, Babylon will eventually become powerful enough to overthrow Assyria. 

Babylon had been won by Sennacherib's father, Sargon II of Assyria, when he defeated its chieftain Merodach-Baladan. Sargon proclaimed himself king of Babylon and made the nation subject to him. Upon the death of Sargon, many surrounding nations believed his successor Sennacherib would be a weak king, so they saw it as a good time to revolt. Sargon had never allowed his son to accompany him to battle, instead leaving him home as an administrator, and it was widely known that Sargon considered his son more of a politician than an army general. Sargon's poor opinion of his son's abilities led other nations to share the same opinion, but all were wrong. After Sennacherib ascended to the throne and also proclaimed himself king of Babylon, Merodach-Baladan decided the time was ripe to take Babylon back, so he claimed the throne. Sennacherib sent an army regiment to quell the rebellion but suffered defeat. So the next time he went himself as general of a great army and sacked the capitol city, taking about 250,000 people captive, destroying much of the fields and vineyards, and sending Merodach-Baladan fleeing for his life into the marshland. Sennacherib then placed a close friend and adviser in charge of Babylon and he himself returned to Assyria. His friend, Bel-ibni, was a weak administrator who allowed things to get out of hand and rebellion arose again, with Merodach-Baladan returning to incite another uprising. Sennacherib replaced Bel-ibni with his own son, Ashur-nadin-shumi, but he was captured by Merodach-Baladan's allies, the Edomites. Sennacherib marched on Babylon and had all the rebels executed but his son was not found. He then led an expedition against Elam but was defeated and had to return to his own country without recovering his son, who was presumed dead. Later, when the Elamite king died, Sennacherib saw it as a good time to hit Babylon again, and this time the nation fell to him. In his own writings about his exploits, Sennacherib says he filled the city with corpses and cut everything down to the ground, throwing the building blocks into the Arahtu canal, cutting ditches so that water overflowed the ruined foundations of the capitol city. He bragged that he had turned the once-great city into a lake and that it would never rise again.

When Isaiah gave the warning not to turn for Babylon for help, Babylon looked to be a major world player fully capable of taking on Assyria and had proven to be a worthy foe of Assyria so far. We can see the logic of the people of Judah in thinking this might be their best ally against a common enemy. But Isaiah wants them to know that Babylon will fare no better against Assyria than Egypt or Cush, at least not in the near future. In our study of the kings we learned that the Lord promised King Hezekiah, through the prophet Isaiah, that Jerusalem would not fall to Sennacherib. In the book of Isaiah we will revisit that event shortly. Time and again Isaiah has to remind the people of Judah that her help is in the Lord, not in the nations around her. The Lord brought Israel out of Egypt and gave her the Promised Land. The Lord made a great kingdom out of the twelve tribes of Israel. The Lord is who King David trusted in for victory; shouldn't the nation continue to trust? The God who helped David to victory time and again is still the same God. When we studied the life of David we noted that he was almost always outnumbered in battle but because the Lord fought with him, the enemy always fell. We can never be outnumbered if our God is with us, and that's the message Isaiah is trying to communicate to his people. If God is for them, who can be against them?

Today we looked at a prediction for the destruction of Babylon by Assyria in the near future, but tomorrow we will look at a prediction for a farther-off destruction by the Medo-Persian Empire, along with a very far-off prediction about its destruction in the end times. Babylon in the Scriptures has always been symbolic of rebellion. It rebelled against all authority: both God's and man's. This is why it was foolish for Judah to put her trust in that nation for help against her enemy. Babylon herself was an enemy of God's and why should Judah turn to a pagan nation for help when she had access to Almighty God? Isaiah is encouraging the people to return to her roots and to the God who made them into a nation in the first place. God is her Helper, not a nation that bows the knee to false idols. God is her Defender and Redeemer, not a nation that was the birthplace of man's first rebellion against the Creator. David was fond of saying in the psalms, "Vain is the help of man," and this doesn't mean he didn't value his godly friendships, but it meant that he always knew, at all times, that his real help came from the Lord. We have precious Christian friends who encourage and support us in our trials, but they are human like us, and our real help from our spiritual enemy comes from the Lord. He brings the victory even when it looks like we are outnumbered. He brings the victory even when defeat seems imminent. If God is for us, who can be against us? If we hold tightly to His hand as a child holds the hand of the father he trusts, what can man do to us? We can walk through the valley of the shadow of death and fear no evil, because our God is with us.

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