Friday, May 24, 2024

The Book Of Isaiah. Day 137, The Lord Will Do Battle

In today's text we find the people being urged to turn back to the Lord. He is their source of security, not Egypt or any other nation or any other god. If they will place their faith in the Lord, He will do battle for them.

Isaiah relays the words of God: "This is what the Lord says to me: 'As a lion growls, a great lion over its prey---and though a whole band of shepherds is called together against it, it is not frightened by their shouts or disturbed by their clamor---so the Lord Almighty will come down to do battle on Mount Zion and on its heights.'" (Isaiah 31:4) The Lord has been promising the people of Jerusalem that He will protect them from the threat of Assyria. The Assyrian army is going to come right up to the gates but the people inside will not have to fight for their city; the Lord will supernaturally defend it.

Just as a lion growls fiercely over a lamb it has captured from the herd, no matter how much the shepherds might shout at it and try to drive it away from its kill, the Lord will not be driven away from His intention to defeat the plans of the Assyrian army. He is not at all alarmed by how many soldiers are going to come and encamp around Jerusalem. With one "growl", so to speak, He is going to strike dead 185,000 enemy soldiers in the middle of the night. He will not need any help from anyone. The God who spoke the universe into existence can easily defeat any enemy that comes against His people.

Isaiah's fellow citizens are to place their trust in the Lord alone. They have heard what Assyria has done to the northern kingdom of Israel and to many other nations but there is no reason for them to be shaking in their shoes at the news that this army is advancing toward them. The Lord will protect them. "Like birds hovering overhead, the Lord Almighty will shield Jerusalem; He will shield it and deliver it, He will 'pass over' it and will rescue it." (Isaiah 31:5) Like a bird scaring predators away from the nest, the Lord will scare Assyria away from Jerusalem. When the plague strikes the enemy army in the night, the king of Assyria (who is not encamped with his army) will have to call a halt to his plans and retreat to his own country, intending to call up and train more soldiers and plan another siege, but this will never come to pass because he will be assassinated while making an offering to one of his heathen idols.

The nation of Egypt will be no help to Judah. They are wasting time and resources making an alliance with Pharaoh. All of their prayers need to be directed to the God who made them into a nation in the first place. "Return, you Israelites, to the One you have so greatly revolted against." (Isaiah 31:6) A fair number of the people of Judah---including some of the kings---have practiced idolatry. Some practiced it alongside their worship of the Lord and some forsook the Lord entirely in favor of pagan gods. But at this time in history the people of Judah have not forsaken Him to the extent that the people of Israel have. If the northern kingdom had not fallen so far from Him, their nation would not have fallen to Assyria. The people of Isaiah's nation of Judah need to take to heart what is happening to Israel and to so many other countries at the hands of the Assyrian army. They need to turn back wholeheartedly to the Lord. The Lord allowed Israel to fall because of idolatry. He allowed many other idolatrous nations to fall. With this in mind, every person in Judah should be calling out to the Lord for help. Every person in Judah should be confessing their sins to God and giving their hearts to Him. 

When we move on to our next segment of Chapter 31 we will find Isaiah prophesying about the supernatural deliverance that is coming.

Thursday, May 23, 2024

The Book Of Isaiah. Day 136, The One Whom We Should Trust

As we closed Chapter 30 we found the Lord promising to defend Jerusalem from the Assyrian army. We know from our study of the kings that the Lord struck dead 185,000 Assyrian soldiers during the night as they were encamped around Jerusalem and that the king of Assyria was obliged to postpone the intended siege of the city in order to give himself time to regroup and plan the next attack. But he was assassinated in his own country before he could do so. 

As we begin Chapter 31 we find the Lord again cautioning the people of Judah not to call upon the Egyptians for help. They are not to make an alliance with that heathen nation but are instead to place all of their trust in the Lord.

"Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, who rely on horses, who trust in the multitude of their chariots and in the great strength of their horsemen, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel, or seek help from the Lord." (Isaiah 31:1) In view of the approaching threat of Assyria---the nation that ended up causing the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel as well as several other nations and tribes---it made sense from a human standpoint to combine the soldiers, horses, and chariots of Judah with the soldiers, horses, and chariots of Egypt. Assyria was a great threat to Egypt as well as to Judah and other peoples of the region. To use a modern expression, the people of Judah probably thought, "The enemy of my enemy is my friend." Although the Lord's people had long been cautioned never to go back to Egypt for anything, the fact that Assyria was the enemy of both Judah and Egypt made it highly likely that Pharaoh would agree to an alliance and that  perhaps the combined forces of both nations would have a chance of pushing back the enemy.

But man's way is not God's way. If the people of Judah will wholeheartedly trust in Him, they will never need to ally themselves with anyone else. In that era all the other nations of the world were pagan nations and, as the Apostle Paul phrased it, "What fellowship has light with darkness?" (2 Corinthians 6:14) The Lord's people have no business forming a close political/military alliance with the idolaters of Egypt.

If we rely solely on human wisdom, things will appear good to us that are actually not good. Worldly wisdom is not necessarily godly wisdom. The all-wise God knows what is best for every person on the planet. The people of Judah do not need to call upon a heathen nation to help them against Assyria. Having the Lord on their side is all they need; He will defeat their enemy. "Yet He too is wise and can bring disaster; He does not take back His words. He will rise up against that wicked nation, against those who help evildoers." (Isaiah 31:2) 

As we learned in our study of the kings, Pharaoh did make an attempt to come to the aid of Judah (and to the aid of his own nation) by marching out with a large band of troops in hopes of pushing back the Assyrian forces. But he was met with a resounding defeat and had to retreat to his own country. He ended up humbling himself to the king of Assyria and willingly paying the tribute demanded of him. Anyone who hoped Egypt would be the solution to their problem was severely disappointed.

"But the Egyptians are mere mortals and not God; their horses are flesh and not spirit. When the Lord stretches out His hand, those who help will stumble, those who are helped will fall; all will perish together." (Isaiah 31:3) The Lord will pull the rug out from under our feet when we are trying to stand on a foundation that is not Him. He does this for our good. Egypt will be defeated because the Lord does not want the people of Judah to trust in Egypt. 

I've had the Lord pull the rug out from under me several times in my fifty-four years on earth in order to demonstrate to me that I've placed my trust in something or someone who cannot really help me. I'm not saying that we never need the help of fellow humans; I'm saying that the foundation of our life is to be our faith in God. If we are putting anyone or anything in place of God, trouble is sure to follow, for there isn't anyone or anything who can do for us what God can do for us. People will let us down even if they don't intend to let us down. But the Lord's promises are unbreakable and His power is unshakable.

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

The Book Of Isaiah. Day 135, The Voice Of The Lord Will Shatter Assyria

Isaiah has been warning the people of Judah, on behalf of the Lord, not to turn to Egypt for help against Assyria. The forces of Assyria are going to come right up to the gates of Jerusalem later in the book of Isaiah but the Lord is going to miraculously deliver the city from the enemy. Ahead of this great event, Isaiah assures the people that the Lord is going to take care of the problem for them.

"See, the Name of the Lord comes from afar, with burning anger and dense clouds of smoke; His lips are full of wrath, and His tongue is a consuming fire." (Isaiah 30:27) The anger and wrath in verse 27 are not directed toward the nation of Judah but toward the nation that threatens it.

"His breath is like a rushing torrent, rising up to the neck. He shakes the nations in the sieve of destruction; He places in the jaws of the peoples a bit that leads them astray." (Isaiah 30:28) This verse makes it clear that it is not the nation of Judah but Judah's enemies that the Lord intends to defeat. 

Have you ever worried about things that didn't even come to pass? I'm pretty sure everyone has---and more than once. I couldn't tell you how many times I've worried over particular problems that ended up being solved before I actually arrived at the moment of having to deal with them. That is what is going to happen when Assyrian soldiers come and camp around Jerusalem with the intention of laying siege to it: the Lord is going to solve the problem without the people inside the city having to do anything except trust Him.

After witnessing His mighty deliverance, the people will sing His praises. "And you will sing, as on the night you celebrate a holy festival; your hearts will rejoice as when people playing pipes go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the Rock of Israel. The Lord will cause people to hear His majestic voice and will make them see His arm coming down with raging anger and consuming fire, with cloudburst, thunderstorm and hail. The voice of the Lord will shatter Assyria; with His rod He will strike them down. Every stroke the Lord lays on them with His punishing club will be to the music of timbrels and harps, as He fights them in battle with the blows of His arm." (Isaiah 30:29-32)

In our study of the kings we learned that during the night the Lord struck down 185,000 Assyrian troops in their camp outside of Jerusalem so that in the morning, when the citizens of the city awoke, it was to the sound of silence from the camp. It was to the sight of nothing except dead bodies rather than the sight of armed soldiers standing around the walls.

We conclude Chapter 30 with the following text: "Topheth has long been prepared; it has been made ready for the king. Its fire pit has been made deep and wide, with an abundance of fire and wood; the breath of the Lord, like a stream of burning sulfur, sets it ablaze." (Isaiah 30:33) 

Topheth was a location outside of Jerusalem in the Valley of Ben Hinnom. This was a place considered unclean, for in the time of the Canaanites it was used for many abominable heathen sacrifices---including child sacrifice. Some of the descendants of Jacob also engaged in such heathen practices in that location, so that by the time of Jesus it was used as a city dump similar to our landfills of today, for the unclean practices that took place there had rendered it unfit for being anything other than a dump site. Jesus compared that location to hell because it was a place where fires burned continually (to get rid of household garbage and the bodies of livestock that died of disease or died by being attacked by wild animals) and because it was filled with maggots and a terrible stench. Jesus used this comparison so people would understand what a place of despair hell is going to be---so they would not end up there. 

Isaiah appears to be using the location of Topheth as a metaphor for hell as well, stating that this will be the fate of the king of Assyria. The king of Assyria did not die in the region of Jerusalem and he was not buried or burned at Topheth; he was not among those who perished in the plague the Lord sent during the night. He did die though, and at the hands of two of his own sons, not long after threatening to regroup his army and send it against Jerusalem again.

The Lord handles so many situations for us before we ever arrive at them, just as He is going to do for the people of Jerusalem against their enemy. Even in times when we have to enter the battle, He is right there with us fighting for us. There are occasions in the Bible where the people fight in battles and there are occasions when the Lord tells them to stand back and watch Him do it, but in both circumstances He is the one who wins the victory. In the case of the Assyrians coming right up to the gates of Jerusalem, the Lord wins the victory without the people inside the city having to lift a finger against the Assyrian army. How many times has He done the same for you and for me? More times than we are even aware of! Let us thank Him for that!

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

The Book Of Isaiah. Day 134, Weeping No More

The Lord has foretold a time of hardship for the nation but He has also promised the people that He will "rise up to show you compassion". As we discussed yesterday, He will never break the promise He made about preserving the people of Israel. 

Earlier in our chapter we found the people of Judah of Isaiah's day and of the next 130 years saying things like, "Don't prophesy to us anymore!" But a time will come when they will turn back to the Lord, back to the Scriptures, back to the true prophets, and back to the wise elders.

"People of Zion, who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. How gracious He will be when you cry for help! As soon as He hears, He will answer you. Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, 'This is the way; walk in it.'" (Isaiah 30:19-21) 

A lot of the prophets and priests and elders went astray from the Lord. Some did not, but they were generally scoffed at. As we continue on through the books of the prophets we will find the majority of the people choosing to listen to false messengers because the false messengers speak the words they want to hear. But this will not always be the case! After their defeat and their captivity in Babylon, they will want to know the truth about the Lord. They will seek Him and He will answer them. True prophets and faithful priests and wise elders will rise up to guide them.

After the era of captivity we never again see the tribes of Israel bowing to images again. They will recognize these things for how useless they are, which is why this next verse graphically describes them casting the idols from them as a person would cast away an object covered in bodily fluids. "Then you will desecrate your idols overlaid with silver and your images covered with gold; you will throw them away like a menstrual cloth and say to them, 'Away with you!'" (Isaiah 30:22) Anything covered with blood or any other bodily fluids was considered unclean due to the risk of pathogens. Just as a person would not retain any object covered in blood but would throw it in the garbage, the idols to which the people formerly bowed will now appear to them as unclean garbage, fit for nothing but being thrown onto the trash heap to be burned.

When the Lord brought the descendants of Jacob into the promised land, He assured them He would make all of their work prosper. Their fields would produce abundant crops. Their flocks would increase. The work of the laborers and the artisans would turn out well and would provide a living for their families. He also warned the people that turning from Him would result in the opposite: drought, disease, and oppression by their enemies. In this next segment we foresee a day which has only been fulfilled in part in our time.

"He will also send you rain for the seed you sow in the ground, and the food that comes from the land will be rich and plentiful. In that day your cattle will graze in broad meadows. The oxen and donkeys that work the soil will eat fodder and mash, spread out with fork and shovel. In the day of great slaughter, when the towers fall, streams of water will flow on every high mountain and every lofty hill. The moon will shine like the sun, and the sunlight will be seven times brighter, like the light of seven full days, when the Lord binds up the bruises of His people and heals the wounds He inflicted." (Isaiah 30:23-26) 

Although a large number of the people returned from the Assyrian captivity and from the Babylonian captivity, the return of prosperity promised above was not completely fulfilled in that era. The Lord did help the nation to rebuild but it continued to be plagued and subjugated by various enemies. For a very long time in history the nation of Israel was not even a sovereign and recognized nation in the world until fairly recent times.

The Lord has kept His promise to make Israel a sovereign nation in the world again. He has kept His promise never to remove the tribes of Israel from the earth. But the complete fulfillment of the verses above will not take place until the Messiah comes to reign over the earth forever from the throne of David at Jerusalem. But just as the Lord has kept every promise up until now, He will continue to keep every promise He has ever made. Whether the reign of the Messiah begins in our lifetime or whether it doesn't begin until a thousand years from now, it will happen and then the descendants of Jacob will weep no more. Indeed, no one who has trusted in the name of the Lord will ever weep again.

Monday, May 20, 2024

The Book Of Isaiah. Day 133, The Lord Longs To Be Gracious

As we closed yesterday's passage we found the Lord providing the people with a recipe for peace with Himself---a recipe which would also provide them with security from their enemies. But He said the people would have nothing to do with this recipe, preferring instead to look to mankind for help. He continues with that theme as today's text opens.

"You said, 'No, we will flee on horses.' Therefore you will flee! You said, 'We will ride off on swift horses.' Therefore your pursuers will be swift." (Isaiah 30:16) The references to horses may be a reference to the people's intention to call upon Egypt for help. Egypt was primarily where they procured their horses in those days, even though the Lord strictly charged the people not to trade with the Egyptians for horses and not to enter into an alliance with them. 

Their intention to flee their enemies is an intention to flee from God, whether they realize it or not. They are rejecting His help because they don't want to submit to His authority over them. I'm reminded of when I was a child and would frequently reject the outstretched hand of my father or mother. I was a fiercely independent child who always wanted to do everything myself, even when it wasn't in my best interests. I painfully recall an occasion when, on an ice-encrusted sidewalk outside the post office, my mother cautioned me that I must hold her hand on the way back to the car. Stubbornly I refused, trotting off to the car on my own and falling embarrassingly on my bottom in front of everyone. A fall is what's going to happen to the people of Judah when they refuse the outstretched hand of the Lord. 

Before the Lord brought the descendants of Jacob into the promised land He cautioned them that if they forsook Him they would flee from their enemies. By contrast, the reward of obedience was that their enemies would flee from them in all directions; He promised that no nation would ever be able to stand against them if they would remain faithful to Him. Because the spiritual health of the citizens of Judah will continue to dwindle over the coming decades, their nation will fall approximately 130 years after the northern kingdom of Israel falls. They will reap the consequences of forsaking the Lord, as we see in this next passage.

"A thousand will flee at the threat of one; at the threat of five you will all flee away, till you are left like a flagstaff on a mountaintop, like a banner on a hill." (Isaiah 30:17) As we learned in our study of the kings, many thousands of the citizens of Jerusalem and Judah were deported by the Babylonians after the kingdom fell to the Neo-Babylonian Empire. Only the poorest and least skilled would be left in the land to labor for the enemy. 

But this is not what the Lord wants for them! He does not want to have to bring this to pass. "Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore He will rise up to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for Him!" (Isaiah 30:18) The Lord promised never to make an end of the tribes of Israel and He is going to keep that promise. On foreign soil they will remember Him and begin to call upon Him again. He will respond by restoring them to the land.

In the example of the fall I took outside the post office, my mother longed to be gracious to me. She wanted to prevent me from taking a fall. When I rejected her help, she didn't rejoice when I fell. She didn't say, "I told you so!" She didn't say, in response to my need for help in getting up off the slick sidewalk, "You'll just have to lie there. I'm not going to help you get up." The Lord doesn't do this to the people either. When they reject His offer of help they will fall, but He doesn't rejoice over their fall. He doesn't refuse to help them back up when they call out to Him. He will judge the heathen Babylonians who have oppressed them and He will do this by bringing an enemy against Babylon, an enemy whose leader will set the captives free, and the people will be allowed to return and rebuild. 

No matter what mistakes you or I may have made, the Lord is not going to refuse to help us get back on our feet when we repent and cry out to Him for help. He longs to be gracious to us!

Sunday, May 19, 2024

The Book Of Isaiah. Day 132, The Right Way Rejected

In our last study session we learned that a time would come when the people would reject godly wisdom; indeed, some are already doing so in Isaiah's day. We learned that a time would come when the people would reject the message of the true prophets in favor of listening to false prophets who will tell them what they want to hear. 

Because the people will refuse to listen to godly advice, the Lord states that their waywardness will be their downfall. "Therefore this is what the Holy One of Israel says: 'Because you have rejected this message, relied on oppression and depended on deceit; this sin will become for you like a high wall, cracked and bulging, that collapses suddenly, in an instant. It will break in pieces like pottery, shattered so mercilessly that among its pieces not a fragment will be found for taking coals from a hearth or taking water out of a cistern.'" (Isaiah 30:12-14)

There is no true security without the Lord. There is no sure foundation except the Lord. If Isaiah's nation of Judah puts its trust in anyone or in anything except the Lord, the help they hope for from that thing or person will be in vain. I want to stop here for a moment to point out that this is a good thing for any person who is placing their trust in anyone or in anything except the Lord. The Lord must tear down those false defenses in order to point us back to Himself for forgiveness, for mercy, for salvation. If He allowed us to persist in a sense of false security He would be doing us no favors. In fact, He would actually be hurting us if He allowed us to build our lives on unsafe foundations.

Where should the people of Judah have placed their trust? To whom should they have turned for help? To the God of Israel! The Lord clearly lays out the path to success for them. "This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: 'In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.'" (Isaiah 30:15) 

The solution to all of their spiritual problems and to all of their national security problems was simple: turn back to the Lord, repent of sins, trust in Him. But although the Lord makes the plan of salvation so simple that even very small children can understand it, some folks consider themselves too sophisticated and worldly to accept such a simple solution for the needs of their souls. Others reject the message because they do not want to submit to the Lord; they want to be the lords of their own lives. But rejection of the message brings certain disaster! It brings hardships in this life and, if the person never turns to the Lord, it brings eternal separation from His presence.

In our next study session we will take a look at what many of the people said in response to the message the Lord sent them through His prophets. We will find His heart yearning to be gracious to them and being unable to because they refuse His graciousness. Have you ever tried to help someone who didn't want your help? It was impossible to do anything for them, wasn't it? We can't force a human being to do what's right, not really, not from their hearts. The Lord also does not force human beings to do what's right. He has the power to do so but He is a gentleman and does not force Himself on anyone. He created us with the ability to make choices and He respects our human dignity and the free will with which He endowed us. That is why we can either accept or reject what He says to us but that is also why we must bear the consequences of making the wrong decision. We are free to reject Him---nobody is forcing us to bow to Him and give our hearts to Him---but there are consequences to deliberately refusing His offer of mercy, grace, hope, comfort, protection, provision, and salvation.

Friday, May 17, 2024

The Book Of Isaiah. Day 131, A Message On A Scroll

In yesterday's study we found the Lord warning the people of Judah through the prophet Isaiah not to turn to Egypt for help against Assyria. Ever since the Lord brought the descendants of Jacob out of Egypt, they have been under His commandment not to go back to Egypt and not to make any alliances with Egypt.

When we did our study of the kings we learned that Judah did call upon Pharaoh for help against Assyria, which was a common enemy of both nations, and that Pharaoh did make an attempt to be of help in pushing the Assyrian forces back. But Pharaoh was met with a major defeat and he was obliged to retreat back to his own land where he submitted himself to the king of Assyria and agreed to pay him tribute. 

Because the Lord reveals to Isaiah that the people of Judah will turn to Egypt for help, Isaiah foresees the gifts the king of Judah will send to Pharaoh. Isaiah feels sorry for the beasts of burden that will have to transport these goods, for the alliance with Egypt will prove to be of no benefit to Judah.

The prophet says, "A prophecy concerning the animals of the Negev: Through a land of hardship and distress, of lions and lionesses, of adders and darting snakes, the envoys carry their riches on donkeys' backs, their treasure on the humps of camels, to that unprofitable nation, to Egypt, whose help is utterly useless. Therefore I call her Rahab the Do-Nothing." (Isaiah 30:6-7) 

In my background study I learned that although "Rahab" is a proper name (you will recall that the woman of Jericho who hid the Israelite spies was named Rahab), it is a word that means "pride" in Hebrew. There are several occasions in the Bible where Egypt is referred to as "Rahab", for it was a prideful nation whose people lived in idolatry and excess and all sorts of immorality. Egypt is on the decline in Isaiah's day, bearing little resemblance to its glory days of the time of Moses, but the attitude of its people is the same as when Egypt was at its zenith of power and wealth. The people of Judah have apparently bought into the idea of Egypt being powerful and wealthy even though its heydey is long past now.

Earlier in our study the Lord already predicted that the people of Judah would become ashamed of having trusted in Egypt. He now tells Isaiah to write the following words regarding Judah's attitude of rebellion against the God who has commanded them to trust in Him alone: "Go now, write it on a tablet for them, inscribe it on a scroll, that for the days to come it may be an everlasting witness. For these are rebellious people, deceitful children, children unwilling to listen to the Lord's instruction. They say to the seers, 'See no more visions!' and to the prophets, 'Give us no more visions of what is right! Tell us pleasant things, prophesy illusions. Leave this way, get off this path, and stop confronting us with the Holy One of Israel!'" (Isaiah 30:8-11)

The Lord tells Isaiah to write these things on a scroll before they happen. The people have not yet called upon Egypt for help. The people have not yet rejected all the messages of the true prophets in favor of believing false prophets (as they will in the book of Jeremiah). But when these things happen, the scroll will be proof that the Lord is God, that He knows all things, and that He predicted their actions before they occurred. The scroll will give witness to the Lord's omniscience and it will give witness to the rebellious nature of the people. The scroll should serve to help them acknowledge their sin and to repent over it, though the majority will not do this. But still, it proves the Lord right and it proves the people to be wrong. 

We close today's study by reminding ourselves that the word of God will always prove the Lord to be right. If our attitudes are not in alignment with His word, then we are in the wrong.