Monday, August 8, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 41

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 41

We have been looking for several days at Isaiah's prophecy against Babylon. Now he moves on to tell us the fate of the Assyrians and Philistines, both of whom have been enemies of Israel.

"The Lord Almighty has sworn, 'Surely, as I have planned, so it will be, and as I have purposed, so it will happen. I will crush the Assyrian in My land; on my mountains I will trample him down. His yoke will be taken from My people, and his burden removed from their shoulders.'" (Isaiah 14:24-25) The Lord will accomplish His purposes and who can stop Him? Who has the wisdom to counsel Him about His decisions? We may not always understand why certain things happen but our faith rests on the belief that, if we only knew what God knows and could see our situation as God sees it, we would make the same decisions He makes. As Isaiah will say later on in our key chapter when he is instructed by God to "comfort My people", "Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens? Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance? Who can fathom the Spirit of the Lord, or instruct the Lord as His counselor? Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten Him, and who taught Him the right way? Who was it that taught Him knowledge, or showed Him the path of understanding?" (Isaiah 40:12-14) God is so big that He can hold the creation in one hand; does He not also know all things? God is so big that He said, "Let there be light," and somehow an entire universe sprang into existence; does He not know what's best? He makes decisions regarding kings and kingdoms. He lifts up one and puts down another. This is all according to His purposes on the earth, out of His awesome wisdom and understanding.

The Lord says He will crush the Assyrian "in My land" and will trample them down "on My mountains". In the days of King Hezekiah of Judah, during one of the kings in whose reign Isaiah prophesied, a regiment of Assyria's army came and stood outside the gates of Jerusalem. They threatened to bring a siege against the city for so long that people would surrender due to thirst and starvation. The field commander said terrible things against Judah's king and blasphemous things against Judah's God. But in one single night, as this army camped near the city, the angel of the Lord slew about 185,000 Assyrian soldiers, putting an end to their planned assault on Jerusalem. The Lord did indeed crush them in His land and trample them on His mountains.

"This is the plan determined for the whole world; this is the hand stretched out over all nations. For the Lord Almighty has purposed, and who can thwart Him? His hand is stretched out, and who can turn it back?" (Isaiah 14:26-27) God will have the last word. No king is so great he can pridefully boast against the living God. In our studies of the Scriptures we have seen the rise and fall of many kings and many nations. Their false idols couldn't help them when their day of judgment came.

Now Isaiah moves on to a prophecy against the Philistines. "This prophecy came in the year King Ahaz died: Do not rejoice, all you Philistines, that the rod that struck you is broken; from the root of that snake will spring up a viper, its fruit will be a darting, venomous serpent." (Isaiah 14:28-29) We recall that Isaiah was a prophet during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. In 2 Chronicles 26 we learned that Uzziah "went to war against the Philistines and broke down the walls of Gath, Jabneh and Ashdod. He then rebuilt towns near Ashdod and elsewhere among the Philistines. God helped him against the Philistines and against the Arabs who lived at Gur Baal and against the Meunites." (2 Chronicles 26:6-7) Uzziah was a very powerful king, subduing many territories around him and forcing them to pay tribute to Judah, but in his later years he became prideful about his success. During the reign of his grandson Ahaz the Philistines made some incursions into Judah, viewing Ahaz as a weak king. Of the four kings during whose reigns Isaiah prophesied, Ahaz was the only one considered wicked, and his poor spiritual condition made him a less effective leader than his predecessors. But here the Lord tells the Philistines not to rejoice over the death of the king, or of the declining power of Judah, for out of the house of Ahaz will spring one who will be a greater threat to Philistia than even Uzziah. Hezekiah, the son of Ahaz, will accede to the throne and we are told that "From watchtower to fortified city, he defeated the Philistines, as far as Gaza and its territory." (2 Kings 18:8) The Lord is saying something like, "If you thought Uzziah was as dangerous as a snake, wait til you see his great-grandson. He will be like a swift, darting viper, who will strike you quickly with deadly force."

Ahaz refused to walk by faith. In Chapter 7 he was given a wonderful opportunity to form a relationship with the living God. Up til that point he had lived in opposition to Him and he was on the verge of forming a foolish political alliance with Assyria. Isaiah came to him with God's offer to ask for a sign that He Himself would be the downfall of Judah's enemies. Ahaz didn't need to trust in the help of man. He needed to trust in Almighty God, just as King David before him. But Ahaz refused, pretending to be pious in his refusal to ask God for a sign, because his mind was already made up. So in Chapter 7 God declared He would give Ahaz a sign anyway, the sign of Immanuel. And as we look at the the first part of our next verse I think the prophecy moves on out into the day when Immanuel will come and rule the world from David's throne. In His times "The poorest of the poor will find pasture, and the needy will lie down in safety." (Isaiah 14:30a) 

The Lord predicts the downfall of the Philistines. Some Bible scholars believe this was fulfilled when Assyria conquered them while others think it has to do with a future prophecy against Palestine. We don't know for certain but what we can say is we find a huge difference here in what the Lord predicts for Israel's enemies and what He predicts for Israel. He says of the Philistines, "But your root I will destroy by famine; it will slay your survivors. Wail, you gate! Howl, you city! Melt away, all you Philistines! A cloud of smoke comes from the north, and there is not a straggler in its ranks." (Isaiah 14:30b-31) Destruction is coming upon the Philistines from a northern direction, from which Assyria attacked them in ancient times. Assyria attacked Israel as well in ancient times and defeated her but her eventual fate is going to be vastly different than the fate of the Philistines. "What answer shall be given to the envoys of that nation? 'The Lord has established Zion, and in her His afflicted people will find refuge." (Isaiah 14:32) Israel's fall was not permanent. It was not fatal. God used the rod of Assyria to discipline her for a time but in His mind, forever and always, Zion is established. Nobody can take that away from her. Nobody can change His mind. As the Lord proclaimed at the beginning of our study today, "As I have purposed, so it will happen." 

A time will come when nations will flock to Zion because the King of kings and Lord of lords will be there. Immanuel, God With Us, will rule from David's throne. The poor will find pasture and the needy will lie down in safety. There will be no wars, no terrorist attacks. The Prince of Peace will bring peace to a shattered world and in His eternal reign we will find our rest. 

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