Sunday, November 13, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 138

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 138

Isaiah lived about a hundred years before the Babylonian captivity. In his times it looked like Assyria was the wolf at the door, but the Lord gave him the prophecy of the rise of Babylon and the fall of Judah. But as always in Isaiah's prophecies, there is good mixed with the bad, and today the prophet foretells the fall of Babylon.

"Go down, sit in the dust, Virgin Daughter Babylon; sit on the ground without a throne, queen city of the Babylonians." (Isaiah 47:1a) We've seen the Lord refer to Jerusalem as "Virgin Daughter Jerusalem" because she had not yet been plundered by an enemy. Now He uses that term for the enemy of His people. The citizens of Babylon are on top of the world and do not believe an enemy will ever conquer them again. They became a great nation during a slice of history but no nation is so great it cannot fall. As the expression goes, "The bigger they are, the harder they fall." 

The pride of Babylon will lie in the dust someday as the Lord's "bird of prey" from yesterday's passage advances upon the nation. Cyrus of Persia is coming and Babylon will be humbled in the way she humbled those she conquered. "No more will you be called tender or delicate. Take millstones and grind flour; take off your veil. Lift up your skirts, bare your legs, and wade through the streams. Your nakedness will be exposed and your shame uncovered. I will take vengeance; I will spare no one." (Isaiah 47:1b-3) The Lord allowed Babylon to rise and be an instrument of discipline to His people, but this doesn't excuse their sins against the citizens of Judah. The humiliation they visited upon the people of Judah during their forced march to Babylon will boomerang back on them. There are times in our lives when the Lord allows opposition to come against us or He allows someone to hurt or betray us. Sometimes it's because we have a spirit of pride. Sometimes it's because we've drifted in our relationship with Him. And sometimes it's not because we've done anything wrong, but it's to help make us more like Christ and prepare us for a work God will call us to do. But just because He uses hardship to do us good doesn't mean it lets the offender off the hook. I can look back right now on one of the worst times in my life and thank God for it. There were those who meant evil toward me, and they managed to do evil toward me, but God used it for my good. In fact, I wouldn't be here studying God's word with you this morning if that terrible time hadn't come into my life, but those who treated me so wickedly will still have to answer to God for it. And that's the situation we find in today's passage regarding Judah and Babylon. The Lord didn't make Babylon wicked; He simply took His protective hand off Judah and allowed the king of Babylon to do what came naturally to him. God doesn't make those who mistreat us wicked; it's just that from time to time He allows them to do what comes naturally to them in order to accomplish something in the lives of His people.

We see the prideful Babylon, once the queen of the world, sitting humbled in the dust. Her gods have not defended her, but Judah can jubilantly say, "Our Redeemer---the Lord Almighty is His name---is the Holy One of Israel." (Isaiah 47:4) This verse is inserted in the middle of Isaiah's prophecy against Babylon. I think the prophet couldn't help but stop and cry out praises to the Lord here when he realized how God intends to humble Judah's enemy and bring the captive people out. All is not lost. God's people won't live in exile forever. He has not torn up the covenant He made with their father Abraham and He has not rejected them. 

"Sit in silence, go into darkness, queen city of the Babylonians; no more will you be called queen of kingdoms. I was angry with My people and desecrated My inheritance; I gave them into your hand, and you showed them no mercy. Even on the aged you laid a very heavy yoke. You said, 'I am forever---the eternal queen!' But you did not consider these things or reflect on what might happen." (Isaiah 47:5-7) There are those who cannot handle authority. Power makes them cruel. It brings to the forefront something that was within them all the time: a desire to hurt others. Babylon believed she had free reign to ride roughshod all over God's people. It wasn't enough for her that she had conquered them and taken them captive; she wanted to humiliate them and grind their faces into the dirt. Even the elderly and feeble were mistreated because those with a spirit of cruelty enjoy taking advantage of the weak. And never during all this time did Babylon stop to consider there might be consequences for her actions. God allowed her to take Judah captive, but He considered exile from Zion to be punishment enough for Judah's idolatry and waywardness. When the Lord gave Babylon an inch, they took a mile. It wasn't enough for them to capture the people of Judah and make them serve the king. They treated Judah inhumanely and a price must be paid for that. 

Isaiah goes on to describe the exact attitude of King Belzhazzar and his officials on the night Cyrus will overthrow Babylon, "Now then, listen, you lover of pleasure, lounging in your security and saying to yourself, 'I am, and there is none besides me. I will never be a widow or suffer the loss of children.'" (Isaiah 47:8) Drunkenly celebrating in the palace, unaware that the city is about to be taken, the top people of Babylon have this attitude, "We are gods! There is nobody like us!" They have a spirit that uses terminology that can only be used by the Lord, who is "The I Am", who can truly say, "There is none besides Me". 

Because this is the state of their hearts, they will suffer the very things they believe they will never have to face. "Both of these will overtake you in a moment, on a single day: loss of children and widowhood. They will come upon you in full measure, in spite of your many sorceries and all your potent spells." (Isaiah 47:9) Babylon was a land of spiritual darkness, completely engulfed in idolatry, but none of her gods will stand and speak up for her. She has trusted in a lie, in nothing but smoke and mirrors. She has trusted in gods who don't exist and she has trusted in her own power which can be swept away by the Lord as easily as a cobweb can be swept away by a hand. 

We spoke yesterday about the nothingness of idols and also about the fact that, in behind the desire to worship things other than God lies something evil and demonic. Satan incites mankind to turn from the living God to worship other things. But when God arrives on the scene to demand a price be paid for wickedness, Satan deserts his followers exactly like the useless idols deserted the people of Babylon. No doubt the Babylonians believed the gods they worshiped so enthusiastically would fight for them, but not a peep was heard. They were left to face the invader alone. And this is what Satan does when he has tempted us to go stray. We are left to face the consequences of our sins alone. We stand in the wreckage we've made of our lives and weep bitter tears over what a mess we're in. And if it weren't for the mercy of a God who can save, we'd have no hope. The best thing we can do at that point is repent and give our lives to "The I Am", the only God, the One who can take the broken pieces of our lives and make us into a vessel of honor fit for His service. There may be a trail of wreckage behind us but there can be something better ahead of us.

No comments:

Post a Comment