Sunday, August 21, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 54

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 54

Isaiah has been warning Judah not to look to Babylon for help against Assyria. Yesterday we studied at one reason for this: Assyria, under King Sennacherib, will raze Babylon to the ground. It will rise again, but another destroyer will come, for Isaiah has been given a vision of a second fall for Babylon. In addition, he has been given a vision for a third and final fall in the end times.

"A dire vision has been shown to me: The traitor betrays, the looter takes loot. Elam, attack! Media, lay siege! I will bring to an end all the groaning she caused." (Isaiah 21:2) The lands of Elam and Media, modern-day Iran, were incorporated into the Persian Empire. The Medes had previously been an ally of Babylon against Assyria and they grew in strength as Assyria weakened, but after being conquered by Cyrus the Great in 549 BC, they became part of the Medo-Persian Empire. Perhaps this is why Isaiah speaks of a traitor here. The Medes, who were formerly friends of Babylon, have now become Babylon's enemy because of their entanglement with Persia. The prophet Daniel foresaw the coming Medo-Persian Empire when he interpreted a dream of King Nebuchadnezzar in which the king saw a large statue with a head of gold, a chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, and its feet a mixture of iron and clay. The head of gold represented the Babylonian kingdom under Nebuchadnezzar, but the chest and arms represented the next kingdom, that of the Medo-Persians. Daniel knew the coming kingdom would be that of another nation taking control of the region, for he said to the king, "After you, another kingdom will arise, inferior to yours." (Daniel 2:39a) The glory of Babylon never again reached the heights it reached under Nebuchadnezzar. Cyrus was called "the Great" for a reason, for he was a powerful conqueror, but Babylon's heyday and peak of glory was during the time of Nebuchadnezzar.

By the time Babylon fell, Nebuchadnezzar was dead and the kingdom was ruled jointly by Nabonidus and his son Belshazzar. Nabonidus was a military man, interested only in being the general of Babylon's armies, and so he put his son Belshazzar in charge of the administration of the kingdom. Belshazzar would have remained at the palace, overseeing the government of the nation, while his father would have been out on campaigns with the troops. This is why in the book of Daniel we find Belshazzar drunkenly presiding over a feast with the nobles of the nation while the enemy, Medo-Persia, digs a trench to divert the waters of the river into a swamp, drying up the riverbed so that they were able to cross the shallow waters and enter the city. The ancient historian Herodotus records this event, adding, "The Babylonians at the time were celebrating intensely at a feast to one of their gods and they were taken totally by surprise." 

In receiving this vision of Babylon's fall, Isaiah is stricken with shock and dismay. "At this my body is racked with pain, pangs seize me, like those of a woman in labor; I am staggered by what I hear, I am bewildered by what I see. My heart falters, fear makes me tremble; the twilight I longed for has become a horror to me." (Isaiah 21:3-4) The citizens of Babylon will feel just as Isaiah feels when her enemy suddenly appears inside the gates. Also, I can't help but wonder if part of the pain Isaiah is feeling describes the condition of Belshazzar when the handwriting appeared on the wall during his drunken banquet as he served wine in the gold and silver vessels taken from the temple of the Lord. "Suddenly the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall, near the lampstand in the royal palace. The king watched the hand as it wrote. His face turned pale and he was so frightened that his legs became weak and his knees were knocking." (Daniel 5:5-6) Daniel was called in to interpret the handwriting and told Belshazzar that the Lord was saying He had numbered the days of his reign and was bringing it to an end, that he had been weighed on the scales and found lacking, and that his kingdom was divided and given to the Medo-Persians. Truly, the twilight Belshazzar longed for had become a horror to him. He had looked forward to evening, to the feast and the wine, so he could cavort and laugh with his nobles as he disrespected the Lord, the God of Israel. But the wild party soon turned to horror and he turned pale and shook with terror.

You've probably heard the expression "Nero fiddled while Rome burned", but it can be said of Belshazzar that he feasted as Babylon fell. "They set the tables, they spread the rugs, they eat, they drink! Get up, you officers, oil the shields!" (Isaiah 21:5) Isaiah pictures the scene in the palace, about two hundred years before it happens, and in his mind he's saying to the men, "Get up! The enemy is at the gates! Stop eating and drinking! Go and man the battle stations!" Ancient Babylon thought it was too great to fall. Belshazzar did not believe an enemy could come in and so he complacently ate and drank as the crafty enemy army figured out a way to attack from direction of the river. He likely thought he had all entry points covered but he underestimated the intelligence of the advancing army.

"This is what the Lord says to me: 'Go, post a lookout and have him report what he sees. When he sees chariots with teams of horses, riders on donkeys or riders on camels, let him be alert, fully alert.' And the lookout shouted, 'Day after day, my lord, I stand on the watchtower; every night I stay at my post. Look, here comes a man in a chariot with a team of horses. And he gives back the answer: 'Babylon has fallen, has fallen! All the images of its gods lie shattered on the ground!'" (Isaiah 21:6-9) This may have been partly fulfilled when Babylon fell to the Medo-Persians but Cyrus was known to have been sympathetic to the religious customs of the kingdoms he conquered. He allowed religious freedom. I feel its doubtful he literally shattered all the idols of Babylon on the ground. Figuratively he did, for the idols the Babylonians served were no help to them when the conqueror came, so in that sense the idols fell before the enemy.

The entirety of this prophecy remains to be fulfilled when the kingdom of the end times, called Babylon because of its deplorable spiritual condition, falls. "Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great!...In one day her plagues will overtake her: death, mourning and famine. She will be consumed by fire, for mighty is the Lord God who judges her." (Revelation 18:2a,8) In the end times, all idols will lie shattered on the ground. Everything man has trusted in other than the living God will prove to be worthless and Christ will reign forever from the throne of David. "The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and His name the only name." (Zechariah 14:9) 

The Lord has words of comfort for His people who were taken captive to ancient Babylon and Isaiah reassures them with these words, "My people who are crushed on the threshing floor, I tell you what I have heard from the Lord Almighty, from the God of Israel." (Isaiah 21:10) Yes, the Babylonian captivity is coming, because Judah will fall so far into idolatry that God will discipline her by a heathen nation. The people of God will feel as if they have been crushed underfoot like grain on a threshing floor. But in time the Lord will punish her conqueror. The people are to take heart in knowing Babylon will fall to Cyrus just as Jerusalem fell to Nebuchadnezzar. 

In the end times, the world will experience days darker than any since the beginning of time. A spiritual Babylon will arise and the king of those days will be indwelt by Satan himself. The Lord will still call out a people for His name during those days in spite of the spiritual darkness and they will feel like they are being crushed on the threshing floor, suffering persecution by the man of sin, with many being martyred for the faith. But the Lord Almighty promises the Babylon of the end times will fall never to rise again. Every idol will lay shattered under the feet of the Lord, ground into the dirt, never to be remembered. All sin will cease. The curse will be lifted. We will behold the beautiful face of our precious Redeemer as He sits crowned King of kings and Lord of lords on the throne of all the earth. "Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!" (Revelation 5:12b) Worthy is the Lamb, seated on the throne! He will be both Lord and King and will reign in righteousness forever and ever, amen! 

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