Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 64

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 64

In the midst of Isaiah's account of the desolation that will come upon the earth in the last days, we hear voices of praise. "They raise their voices, they shout for joy; from the west they acclaim the Lord's majesty. Therefore in the east give glory to the Lord; exalt the name of the Lord, the God of Israel, in the islands of the sea. From the ends of the earth we hear singing: 'Glory to the Righteous One.'" (Isaiah 24:14-16a)

How can there be shouts of praise while the earth is in the throes of destruction? Because even during the Great Tribulation the Lord will call out a people for His name. There will still be those who repent and turn to Him, forsaking all other gods and every idol to bow down before the God of Israel and His precious Son, our Redeemer and King. In order to worship God fully, we must worship His every attribute, and these who have come to Him in the last days praise Him for His justice. It's easy to talk about God's love and mercy, but we must never forget He is also a God of righteousness and wrath. The people who come to the Lord during the Great Tribulation will endure persecution worse than that of any period in history and they will rejoice when the wrath of God falls on their ungodly oppressors. They will raise their voices in praise when God demonstrates His trustworthiness by keeping His word. He is holy and must judge unrighteousness. He must act against those who are enemies of His faithful ones.

Isaiah sees the praise that comes from every corner of the world, as those who have come to the Lord during the Great Tribulation rejoice in their Savior, but his heart weeps for the lost. We saw the prophet in distress at times when he foretold the downfall of ancient kingdoms. He felt the fear and anguish of the citizens of those kingdoms. He now feels the fear and anguish of the ungodly in the last days. "But I said, 'I waste away, I waste away! Woe to me! The treacherous betray! With treachery the treacherous betray!' Terror and pit and snare await you, people of the earth. Whoever flees at the sound of terror will fall into a pit; whoever climbs out of the pit will be caught in a snare." (Isaiah 24:16b-18a) There will be no route of escape for the wicked in the day of the Lord's wrath. Where can anyone flee from the face of God? In Psalm 139, David praised the fact that the Lord saw him at all times and knew everything about him. He praised the fact that the Lord saw him while still in his mother's womb and that the Lord still sees him even when days are dark. If we are right with our Maker, we can rejoice along with David that our God knows our every thought and sees our every move. But for those not right with their Maker, this is a terrifying thing. There will be no place to run and no place to hide. Their dark deeds will be brought to light, their true motivations uncovered, their profane attitudes revealed, and their irreverence for the things of God laid bare. 

The author of Hebrews had this to say about God's wrath upon those who reject Him, and we see the three persons of the Trinity represented here, "Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?...It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." (Hebrews 10:29,31) Isaiah, in his vision of the last days, sees the wicked of mankind falling into the hands of the living God and he feels distressed to his soul. Isaiah demonstrates the heart of the Lord in his intense emotions because the Lord doesn't want anyone to perish, but the Lord must be the holy and righteous judge that He is, and therefore must dispense justice. But as we have seen earlier in our study of Isaiah, the Lord's heart breaks for those who refuse to come to Him and be made whole. 

"The floodgates of heaven are opened, the foundations of the earth shake. The earth is broken up, the earth is split asunder, the earth is violently shaken. The earth reels like a drunkard, it sways like a hut in the wind; so heavy upon it is the guilt of its rebellion that it falls---never to rise again." (Isaiah 24:18b-20) The author of Hebrews spoke of this day of shaking. He compares it to the day the Lord's voice shook the ground at Mount Sinai, "At that time His voice shook the earth, but now He has promised, 'Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens'. The words 'once more' indicate the removing of what can be shaken---that is, created things---so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably and with reverence and awe, for our 'God is a consuming fire.'" (Hebrews 12:26-29) Isaiah foresees this shaking of the earth, the shaking loose of all that is not founded upon the unshakable kingdom of Christ, so that only what is firmly built on Him remains. 

Isaiah also foresees the shaking of the heavens, "In that day the Lord will punish the powers in the heavens above and the kings on the earth below." (Isaiah 24:21) Satan and a third of the host of heaven rebelled against the Lord. These are those who have been the real enemies of the godly since the beginning, "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the forces of evil in the heavenly realms." (Ephesians 6:12) 

God is going to judge wickedness in the spiritual realm and the wickedness of sinful leaders who have led the world astray. Their fate will be the same. "They will be herded together like prisoners bound in a dungeon; they will be shut up in prison and be punished after many days." (Isaiah 24:22) There awaits a Great White Throne judgment for the ungodly. Those who belong to the Lord are raised in glory, with bodies just like that of the Lord Jesus Christ, incorruptible and eternal. The godly will stand before the Lord for the purpose of rewards, not for the purpose of punishment. But those who have rejected His offer of mercy will be those we find standing before the Lord in Revelation 20:11-15, whose names are not found in the book of life.

If we love the Lord, we must love Him for His mercy but also for His justice. These two attributes of His character cannot be separated from each other. We must love Him for His holiness, for His faithfulness to His promises, and for His refusal to compromise on sin. I don't believe He could be a God of love if He wasn't also a God of wrath. How could we respect a Judge who refuses to abide by the law? At the same time, our hearts ought to weep for the lost, just as Isaiah wept when he foresaw God's wrath, just as Jesus wept over Jerusalem. We should weep just as God weeps for those He desperately wants to save but who refuse His outstretched hand. I believe time is short and we need to pray for the lost like never before. We need to tell the good news of the gospel while there is still time. 

After the long night of the Great Tribulation, dawn breaks at the coming of the King of kings. The brightness of His arrival is such that it eclipses the light from the sun and the moon, "The moon will be dismayed, the sun ashamed; for the Lord Almighty will reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, and before its elders---with great glory." (Isaiah 24:23) In giving Isaiah a vision of the end, the Lord does not leave him in a woeful spirit. Isaiah has been in distress while viewing the world conditions of the last days and the fate of those who reject the Lord. God now shows Isaiah the outcome of all things: the arrival of the King who reigns forever. The bride of Christ, who was whisked to heaven before the days of tribulation fell, will be with Him and behold His face forever. Those who gave their hearts to Him during the Great Tribulation will bask in His glory. We will share in the victory of the One who conquered death, hell, and the grave for us. He did these things for us! He took the beatings, the shame, the insults, the pain of the cross, the darkness of the tomb, for us! And now we see that, when all rebellion is extinguished, and all that was not founded upon the solid rock is removed, Jesus shares with us a victory we did not earn but that He earned for us. He shares with us a glory we do not deserve but that He bestows upon us. He will reign from David's throne forever and we will behold the face of the One whom we will glorify for eternity.

Below is our worship song link for today, a song of glory to the One who won the victory for us. Glory to His name.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 63

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 63

Isaiah is speaking of the judgment of the end times, the period of the Great Tribulation. Up til now he's predicted the fall of several ancient nations as a result of their sins. But in Chapter 24 he looks down through time and sees the fall of the corrupt world system of the last days.

We finished yesterday with Isaiah clearly telling us why this judgment is coming: because man has defiled the earth by disobeying God's laws, violating His statutes, and breaking His covenant. "Therefore a curse consumes the earth; its people must bear their guilt. Therefore earth's inhabitants are burned up, and very few are left." (Isaiah 24:6) The burning in verse 6 may be metaphorical, comparing the fate of the wayward people to that of vines without water, vines that wither and dry up. They lack the Spirit of the Lord and are like dry leaves, curled up and brown, without purpose or use. 

I think possibly verse 6 could have to do with what the Apostle John saw when the Lord gave him this vision, "The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and the sun was allowed to scorch people with fire. They were seared by the intense heat and they cursed the name of God, who had control over these plagues, but they refused to repent and glorify Him." (Revelation 16:8-9) After the Lord Jesus sweeps His bride away to heaven, dark days will fall on the earth as God's wrath pours out upon all ungodliness. But as we learned from our previous study of Revelation, God will still be appealing to the spirit of mankind even in the midst of these woes. Something about the sun or about the earth's atmosphere will change during the cataclysms of the Great Tribulation and cause intense heat. The heat is intended to cause people to think about why such destructions have come upon them, so that they take account of their lives and realize they have rejected God. Even in wrath, God remembers mercy. (Habakkuk 3:2) But according to the Apostle John, he did not see any of the ungodly repenting in the fierce heat of the sun, but instead they cursed the name of the Lord, the name of the only One with the power to save them.

"The new wine dries up and the vine withers; all the merrymakers groan. The joyful timbrels are stilled, the noise of the revelers has stopped, the joyful harp is silent. No longer do they drink wine with a song; the beer is bitter to its drinkers." (Isaiah 24:7-9) Harvest was a celebratory time but there is no harvest to celebrate. The vines are dried up in the fields. There are no grapes for wine. The beer produced by what grain they were able to grow is not fit to drink. The worldwide kingdom of the end times has been one of wealth and excess, of every type of carnal pleasure, of celebrating mankind and his achievements rather than celebrating the Lord who created all things. When the spiritual "Babylon" of the end times falls, great will be its fall. "With such violence the great city of Babylon will be thrown down, never to be found again. The music of harpists and musicians, pipers and trumpeters, will never be heard in you again." (Revelation 18:21b-22a)

"The ruined city lies desolate; the entrance to every house is barred. In the streets they cry out for wine; all joy turns to gloom, all joyful sounds are banished from the earth. The city is left in ruins, its gate battered to pieces. So will it be on the earth and among the nations, as when an olive tree is beaten, or as when gleanings are left after the grape harvest." (Isaiah 24:10-13) Olives were harvested by beating the trees so the olives would fall to the ground, which always left a remnant of olives on the limbs. At harvest time there would always be grapes that were missed and left behind, a remnant. That is what is going to be on the earth in the last days: a remnant of mankind. The earth will be shaken like an olive tree according to the word of the Lord given to His prophet Haggai, "This is what the Lord Almighty says: 'In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,' says the Lord Almighty." (Haggai 2:6-7) 

Before Christ comes to take the throne of David, the Lord will shake the heavens and the earth, which we can clearly see from the plagues and woes of the book of Revelation. Then, after those dark and dreadful days, what is desired by all nations will come: that is, our King will come and reign in righteousness. The world may not know it, but what we all desire deep down in our hearts is communion with our Maker. We desire a connection with One bigger than ourselves, with One who can make us whole and holy as we were meant to be, fulfilling His ultimate purpose in us. God created us in His image, capable of having fellowship with Him. Nothing short of that will ever satisfy the longing in our souls. The Bible tells us we were created by Him and for Him. (Colossians 1:15b) We were designed to want to know Him and serve Him and enjoy the sweet friendship and mercy of our Savior. This is why He is the desire of all nations, because He is the desire of every heart. The world offers us many substitutes for a relationship with the Lord, but these substitutes will leave us empty and broken. Only in Christ can we fulfill the desire of our souls and only in Christ can we fully be what our Creator intended us to be.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Comfort My People; The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 62

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 62
As we begin Chapter 24 I want to tell you I have some good news. One we get through this chapter, this "night" of woes and devastations, we have three chapters in a row that are filled with praise to our God. Isaiah has a habit of going back and forth between bad news and good news, but the section we've been in lately has mostly been bad news for various nations mentioned in the Bible. The "night" in Isaiah's vision has lasted longer than any of the previous ones. But morning is coming.
After discussing the downfall of several ancient nations, Isaiah moves very far into the future to paint us a portrait of world conditions in the end times. Chapter 24 has been known as the "Isaiah Apocalypse" or, as the NIV titles it, "The Lord's Devastation Of The Earth". The period of time involved in this chapter is the Great Tribulation, when the church will have been taken to heaven and dark days reign on the earth. These will be the days the Apostle Paul was speaking of when he said, "But mark this: there will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God." (2 Timothy 3:1-4) We have already seen this attitude in some of the ancient nations the Lord judged but in the last days this attitude will prevail upon the earth.
Isaiah looks ahead and sees the deplorable spiritual condition of mankind in the last days and the Lord's judgment of sin. "See, the Lord is going to lay waste the earth and devastate it; He will ruin its face and scatter its inhabitants---it will be the same for priest as for people, for the master as for his servant, for the mistress as for her servant, for seller as for buyer, for borrower as for lender, for debtor as for creditor. The earth will be completely laid waste and totally plundered. The Lord has spoken this word." (Isaiah 24:1-3) The same fate awaits all the ungodly, whether rich or poor, whether high in status or whether beggars on the street corners. God will not be impressed by a person's wealth or social standing when it comes to judgment. God's judgment of mankind rest upon whether He can say, "Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your Master's happiness!" (Matthew 25:23) Or whether He must say, "I never knew you. Away from Me, you evildoers!" (Matthew 7:23)
You recall from our study of Revelation the way the earth was laid waste and devastated by the wrath poured out on it. Plagues were set loose, worse than any plagues of Egypt. Isaiah foresees this and says, "The earth dries up and withers, the world languishes and withers, the heavens languish with the earth." (Isaiah 24:4) The final days were spoken of by the Lord like this, "I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke." (Acts 2:19) When we studied Revelation we saw these things happening.
Isaiah now gives us the reason for the terrible plagues. "The earth is defiled by its people; they have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes and broken the everlasting covenant." (Isaiah 24:5) Since Adam and Eve first sinned in the Garden of Eden and the earth became cursed and began to grow thorns, man has lived in opposition to God and His laws. The fall of man brought the whole world down with him. The creation has suffered because of our sins. The environment and the animal kingdom have been "subjected to frustration". (Romans 8:20) There is no such thing as a sin that only hurts the sinner. Sin doesn't operate that way. It's like a little seed planted in the ground that sprouts up and spreads out, affecting the space around it. When man fell, the world fell.
But when a Man arose, a new hope was born for the creation and all its creatures. Mankind could now be made right with God. A sacrifice had been given which cancelled out the penalty of the fall if man would only look to Him, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world. In Christ we become new creatures and, where there are new creatures, there is a new creation. You and I, along with every human being who makes Christ their Lord, have a glorious future ahead of us. "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed in us." (Romans 8:18) We live in a world with the curse of sin upon it and as a result we endure sufferings while we live. But a day is coming when our King will make all things new. We will no longer be subject to temptation and sin, weak in the flesh, becoming ill and facing death. We will be like Him, in a glorious body that never dies, and because Christ has redeemed both us and this earth from the curse of sin, the very creation shares in our glory just as it once shared in our fall. "For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God." (Romans 8:19-21)
The earth will go through a destruction so it can be reworked by the Creator's hands. Isaiah is going to be talking about some dark days in Chapter 24, but we know we have the promise of a future glory that no human mind is able to comprehend. The Apostle Paul, in his vision of heaven, could only say that no eye has seen and no ear has heard and no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him. (2 Corinthians 2:9) Paul was a man who suffered many things in this life but was able to declare that he couldn't even begin to compare his sufferings with the glory to come. Some of us have been through hard things in this life. There are people I know who have been through things I can't imagine, such as the loss of a child. But we have a day to look forward to when suffering and death will be no more. The future that God has planned for us will be so glorious that we will look back on our past life in this fallen world and say, "The sufferings there weren't worthy to be compared to the glory here." Amen!

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 61

Comfort  My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 61

We conclude Chapter 23 and Isaiah's prophecy against Tyre today. The prophet predicts a downfall in the near future, then a rising to continue her wicked ways. But there is also a prophecy for the far future, for a time when the citizens of Tyre will worship the King of kings.

"Till your land as they do along the Nile, Daughter Tarshish, for you no longer have a harbor." (Isaiah 23:10) The fall of Tyre will set Tarshish free. She will no longer be under Tyre's control, forced to work at the industry of ship building, so she will need to learn how to till the soil. 

"The Lord has stretched out His hand over the sea and made its kingdoms tremble. He has given an order concerning Phoenicia that her fortresses be destroyed. He said, 'No more of your reveling, Virgin Daughter Sidon, now crushed!'" (Isaiah 23:11-12a) Sidon founded Tyre and will share in her loss.

"Up, cross over to Cyprus; even there you will find no rest." (Isaiah 11:12b) The refugees will not find a fresh start in Cyprus, for Cyprus was firmly in the hand of Assyria. Assyria would become a foe, not a friend, of Tyre.

"Look at the land of the Babylonians, this people that is now of no account! The Assyrians have made it a place for desert creatures; they raised up their siege towers, they stripped its fortresses bare and turned it into a ruin." (Isaiah 23:13) At one time it looked as if Assyria would dominate the world. When Isaiah gave this prophecy, Assyria was the nation Israel and Judah feared. She had laid Babylon waste and in Isaiah's day, when he foretold a coming overthrow of Judah by Babylon, it may have seemed impossible. The people of Judah likely doubted Babylon would grow into a nation strong enough to defeat Assyria and take over control of the region.

"Wail, you ships of Tarshish; your fortress is destroyed!" (Isaiah 23:14) Tarshish was free of Tyre but she suffered the loss of industry and trade. This is why the citizens of Tarshish will turn to the tilling of the land. (v 10) Tarshish will return to being an agricultural society rather than an industrial society.

"At that time Tyre will be forgotten for seventy years, the span of a king's life. But at the end of these seventy years, it will happen to Tyre as in the song of the prostitute: 'Take up a harp, walk through the city, you forgotten prostitute; play the harp well, sing many a song, so that you will be remembered.'" (Isaiah 23:15-16) J. Alec Motyer, in his book Isaiah, says, "The seventy years extended from the campaigns of Sennacherib (701) until the terminal decline of Assyria (say about 630) which allowed Tyre to spread its wings again." (pg. 161) Tyre would be unable to ply her trade for a span of about seventy years, after which her oppression by Assyria would lift, allowing her to once again be a "prostitute". I believe the term is used here in the same way it is used in Revelation 17, when the Apostle John refers to the greedy worldwide economic empire under the Antichrist as a prostitute. In contrast to the beautiful and pure wife of the Lamb (the church), the bride Satan has chosen for himself is an immoral woman, the one with whom "the kings of the earth committed adultery". (Revelation 17:2a) Commercialism and materialism will reach its zenith in the kingdom of the Antichrist. Ancient Tyre is being used as a symbol of greed and the willingness to do anything to accumulate wealth and so she is called a prostitute. Likewise, the economic empire of the end times will be one of unchecked greed, with mankind reveling in material comforts, with the citizens of the world serving themselves and not the Lord, and that is why the final economic empire is also called a prostitute. The immoral kingdoms of times past and of times to come are aptly referred to as prostitutes for they are willing to trade in their principles in exchange for money. Ancient Tyre gave herself away for material gain as will the future "Tyre", the economic system of the last days.

"At the end of seventy years, the Lord will deal with Tyre. She will return to her lucrative prostitution and will ply her trade with all the kingdoms on the face of the earth. Yet her profit and her earnings will be set apart for the Lord; they will not be stored up or hoarded. Her profits will go to those who live before the Lord, for abundant food and fine clothes." (Isaiah 23:17-18) Much of the background material I studied suggests that this is a twofold prophecy for a time that was far in the future in Isaiah's day. After seventy years Tyre would resume trade, but there would come a day when her wealth would not serve the carnal desires of her citizens but would serve those who belong to the Lord. This was partially fulfilled when many in the region became Christians in the early New Testament days. Luke makes mention of the disciples at Tyre in Acts 21:3a-6, "We landed at Tyre, where our ship was to unload its cargo. Through the Spirit they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem. When it was time to leave, we left and continued on our way. All of them, including wives and children, accompanied us out of the city, and there on the beach we knelt to pray. After saying goodbye to each other, we went aboard the ship, and they returned home." We know these disciples are true Christians because of the precious fellowship they engaged in with Paul and his companions, along with the fact that they possessed spiritual discernment. The people of Tyre knew through the Holy Spirit that Paul would be arrested and taken prisoner at Jerusalem. The region of Tyre retained a large percentage of Christians until about 1517 BC when it was taken over by the Turks.

Many Bible scholars believe the second part of the prophecy will occur when Christ reigns from Jerusalem. Psalm 45 is considered to be Messianic and it speaks of a time when the nations will flock to Jerusalem to bring honor and praise to the King of kings. "The city of Tyre will come with a gift, people of wealth will seek your favor." (Psalm 45:12) Psalm 87 also appears to be about the kingdom of Christ, when those faithful to the Lord from the nations will rejoice in their alliance with Zion, "I will record Rahab and Babylon among those who acknowledge Me---Phylistia too, and Tyre, along with Cush---and will say, 'This one was born in Zion.'" (Psalm 87:4) We find in this list good news for the people for whom Isaiah has been pronouncing great woes. Rahab (Egypt), Babylon, Phylistia, Tyre, and Cush (the upper Nile region), will find their hope in the Lord. They will be "born again" into the family of God. Jesus the Messiah was born to His own people Israel, but through Him the Gentiles too become children of the living God, "Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: 'All nations will be blessed through you.'...So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:8, 26-28) 

In Christ, the believers of all nations call one another "brother" and "sister". I am so thankful the Lord included the Gentiles in His plan of salvation, or else what hope would someone like me have? My ancestors originated somewhere in Europe, bowing down to false idols, serving other gods, not being a part of Abraham's descendants. But because God in His mercy extends a blessed invitation to all people of the earth, I too have a place at God's table. I too am called "child" by the Founder of the nation of Israel. I too can claim the glorious promises of the Scriptures. Israel's Messiah has become my King. In Christ our Savior, we all have equal standing in the house of our God. 

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 60

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 60

We will continue the prophecy against Tyre today as we begin our look at the second half of Chapter 23. Yesterday we learned how tragically the nations viewed the fall of Tyre because it meant economic hardship for all who traded with her. Today Isaiah begins with a question, "Who planned this against Tyre, the bestower of crowns, whose merchants are princes, whose traders are renowned on the earth?" (Isaiah 23:8) This question is rhetorical because he knows the answer. Isaiah is asking the people to think about just why such a calamity has fallen. What brought it about? Who brought it about?

Tyre established crown colonies, just as the British Empire would later do, setting up governors of her own choosing over her provinces, thus being a "bestower of crowns". Also, Tyre was so influential in the ancient world that she was able to meddle in the governmental appointments of other nations, in another sense being a "bestower of crowns". In addition, trade with Tyre made many men wealthy, men not of noble birth but who became "princes" because of their vast riches. These were men not necessarily of noble character either, but who became "renowned on the earth" because of their worldly success. It was a time of opportunity, when any man who could scrounge up a ship and a crew could potentially make his fortune, and many men had made fortunes. In the Bible, Tyre stands as a symbol for materialism and commercialism. It stands for reliance upon wealth and position rather than reliance upon Almighty God. But this "bestower of crowns" is about to come face to face with the King of kings, the One who is the true bestower of crowns, the One who is able to make kings and kingdoms rise or fall.

Isaiah now answers his own question, "The Lord Almighty planned it, to bring down her pride in all her splendor and to humble all who are renowned on the earth." (Isaiah 23:9) God will have the last word. It's easy for a wealthy nation to say, "I am a god! Look what I have accomplished! I have all I need and have made the fortunes of many! Who is like me?" Well, God is going to show the prideful nation who it is that rules over all. He will show them that He alone is God, that without His grace and mercy man can accomplish nothing, and that man owes all praise and glory to Him.

The prophet Ezekiel gives us an extra clue as to why the Lord was against Tyre, in addition to her pride and greed. Tyre evidently cast covetous eyes upon Jerusalem when the city fell, saying to herself, "Aha! The gate to the nations is broken, and its doors have swung open to me: now that she lies in ruins I will prosper." (Ezekiel 26:2) Tyre believed that those who formerly traded with Jerusalem would now bring their trade to her, but the Lord was displeased with this attitude. God brought discipline upon Jerusalem because of the sin of idolatry but woe to anyone who rejoiced over the city's fall. This matter was between God and His children; Tyre needed to stay out of it altogether and Tyre needed to take Jerusalem's downfall to heart, humbling herself before such a mighty God. For if God does not spare His own children from discipline, how will the godless nations fare? 

Have you ever had an enemy? Someone who gloated when trouble came into your life? Didn't it make your hardship more difficult to bear knowing that someone who hated you rejoiced over your circumstances? I want to tell you we can take heart in knowing that God is highly displeased when anyone gloats over the troubles of His children. Some of you may never have had a human enemy but all of us who belong to Christ have an enemy in Satan. When trouble comes, we can be certain he rejoices over our pain. Nothing pleases him more than circumstances that might cause a child of God to become discouraged. In a particularly tough time in my life, I underlined this verse by the prophet Micah in my Bible because it was a comfort to me, "Do not gloat over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light." (Micah 7:8) A child of God always has the presence of the Lord, even though we might have to endure discipline for a season. He is our light. He is our help and our hope of rising from the ashes. We may be down for a time but we are not out! This was the case with Jerusalem; she had fallen but would rise again. Tyre had no right to gloat over her downfall. God was still with His people. God was disciplining them for a season but He had not forsaken them. Even while sitting in exile in a foreign country, in "darkness", the Lord would be their light there.

No human or supernatural enemy has the right to laugh at the troubles of God's children. God will restore His children and stand us on our feet again and at that time we can say, "Then my enemy will see it and will be covered with shame." (Micah 7:10a) 

Isaiah is telling us that Tyre will also be covered with shame in the day of her downfall. The nation once so proud of itself, so disdainful of others, who rejoiced at the downfall of Jerusalem, will suffer the embarrassment of economic collapse. Over the next several centuries Tyre will be afflicted by Babylon, Greece, and Rome. She will rebuild but never fully regain her former glory. 

If you are going through a time right now when you feel like you sit in darkness, with your enemy gloating over you, take heart. God is your light. He will raise you back to your feet. The prophet Micah had full confidence in this and that is why he was able to say, "But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me." (Micah 7:7)

Friday, August 26, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 59

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 59

Isaiah moves on from his prophecy against Judah and Jerusalem and today we begin a section about the ancient Phoenician city of Tyre. In the Bible we often find Tyre and Sidon mentioned together, for from their area that a prestigious purple dye was obtained by extracting fluid from a mollusk. The Greeks named the region "Phoenicia" which means "purple". It is known that Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon ended up besieging the area for a period of about thirteen years, after which it is thought Tyre and Sidon may have surrendered to him because there is a record in the Babylonian archives of Nebuchadnezzar supplying rations to the people there. He did not destroy Tyre but Alexander the Great certainly did, devastating the city and putting many to death. The city regained much of its prominence during the Roman era and became a wealthy port city once again. Today it retains little of its former glory, having been greatly decimated during the Lebanese civil war. There is still a fishing industry and modern homes, shops, and government buildings, but a good deal of the region is taken up with squatters' shacks and has become a slum. Isaiah has some harsh words for Tyre and its coming destruction. From the time Nebuchadnezzar set out to claim the city as its own, Tyre has not really been free again. She bowed down under Babylonian, Greek, and Roman rule. She suffered destruction of her walls and seaport. She suffered the ravages of civil war and of time itself. And today Tyre is only a shadow of what it once was.

"A prophecy against Tyre: Wail, you ships of Tarshish! For Tyre is destroyed and left without house or harbor. From the land of Cyprus word has come to them." (Isaiah 23:1) Word comes to those nations who trade with the great maritime city of Tyre. It has been destroyed. Sailors bring this sad news back to their homelands and the news is met with wails of grief. Tyre was a city lifted up in pride and materialism, boastful of her wealth and fame. The citizens participated in Baal worship and it was from the region of Tyre and Sidon that the wicked King Ahab of Israel found his wife: the idolatrous Jezebel who had many prophets of God put to death.

Barry G. Webb, in his book The Message Of Isaiah, explains why the destruction of Tyre will be such a horrific loss to everyone who hears about it. "Verses 1-7 picture the stunning news of Tyre's fall reverberating around the Mediterranean world. Home-bound sailors first hear of it in Cyprus; a deathly hush falls over Sidon at the news; Egypt weeps because of the impact on her wheat exports and finally refugees carry the news right back to Tarshish. There is more involved here than the personal suffering of the inhabitants of the city. A lot of people had a great deal to lose in the collapse of Tyre. When it came it would hit the Mediterranean world like a Wall Street crash of devastating proportions." The fall of Tyre was to the ancient world what the stock market crash and the great depression were to the United States. 

"Be silent, you people of the island and you merchants of Sidon, whom the seafarers have enriched. On the great waters came the grain of the Shihor; the harvest of the Nile was the revenue of Tyre, and she became the marketplace of the nations." (Isaiah 23:2-3) Tyre in the Bible is symbolic with commercialism. It is an example of those who trust in wealth and material goods instead of trusting in the Lord. Because there is no spiritual foundation, no Rock of Ages upon which to stand, the collapse of the economy brings the people to a shattered silence. They are grieved to the point of being unable to speak. The rug has been swept out from under them and they have no footing because they have not made God their source of security and comfort in an ever-changing world.

"Be ashamed, Sidon, and you fortress of the sea, for the sea has spoken: 'I have neither been in labor nor given birth; I have neither reared sons nor brought up daughters.'" (Isaiah 23:4) Tyre was an offshoot of Sidon, in a sense Sidon's child, but at its fall Sidon wails at the loss of this child, this extension of itself. 

"When word comes to Egypt, they will be in anguish at the report from Tyre." (Isaiah 23:5) Egypt profited mightily from her grain exports and now a major trading route is cut off.

"Cross over to Tarshish; wail, you people of the island. Is this your city of revelry, the old, old city, whose feet have taken her to settle in far-off lands?" (Isaiah 23:7) When Nebuchadnezzar came to lay siege against Tyre, some of her inhabitants fled as refugees to Tarshish. Those who were once so proud of their merchant city had to flee it in haste, weeping in grief. The city once so full of revelry and celebration now sat in dust and ashes.

Any enterprise, endeavor, or work done without acknowledging or honoring the Lord is nothing but dust and ashes. We may accomplish some big things by worldly standards, just as the region of Tyre did, but wealth can come to nothing in an instant. Status and prestige and fame can vanish suddenly. If those things are what we were basing our security on, we will be like the man who build his house on the sand. "The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash." (Matthew 7:27) The Lord wants better things for us. If Jesus Christ and our relationship with Him are where we find our security and our identity, we have an unshakable foundation. If He chooses to bless us with material wealth, it's simply the icing on the cake. If He chooses to take away material wealth, we won't stumble around without sure footing like the people of Tyre because our house is built upon the rock. "The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock." (Matthew 7:25)

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 58

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 58

Yesterday we noted that the people of Jerusalem were depending on man's effort against their enemy instead of calling out to the Lord. In other words, they were depending on works rather than faith to save them. "The Lord Almighty has revealed this in my hearing: 'Til your dying day this sin will not be atoned for,' says the Lord, the Lord Almighty." (Isaiah 22:14) The only atonement which is provided for us is that which is obtained through faith. Works won't save us. Works won't be enough to save us from the troubles of this life and works won't be enough to save us from our sins. "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith---and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God." (Ephesians 2:8)

Next Isaiah names two men who were officials during the reign of King Hezekiah and he uses these men as an example of the difference between works and faith. We first read of these men in 2 Kings 18 when the Assyrian field commander and his men were outside the gates of Jerusalem. Hezekiah sent three officials out to speak with the Assyrians: Eliakim, Shebna, and Joah. Isaiah is going to make an example of the attitudes of two of the men: Eliakim and Shebna.

"This is what the Lord, the Lord Almighty, says: 'Go, say to this steward, to Shebna the palace administrator: What are you doing here and who gave you permission to cut out a grave for yourself here, hewing your grave on the height and chiseling your resting place in the rock?'" (Isaiah 22:15-16) Evidently Shebna, who is called a steward in Isaiah 22 and a secretary in 2 Kings 18, was in the process of digging out a great tomb for himself on a hillside. This was a Judean practice of wealthy and influential men. The tomb would have impressive carvings or columns on the outside and it would be up on a hill where the citizens could see it. Even after death, a person could exalt himself through the magnificence of his tomb. It indicates pride and a desire to have one's name known for all generations. Isaiah feels Shebna is getting too big for his britches. He thinks of himself as a mighty man in the land, a man to be honored and revered, a man who wants to make a name for himself both in life and in death. He doesn't have the faith to believe anything the prophet Isaiah is saying about the coming destruction and captivity. Shebna is living as if Judah and Jerusalem will continue on, just as it is, forever. He is planning to be buried in his fancy tomb with many generations of his descendants, not taking to heart the words of the prophet.

Some of the background materials I studied suggest that perhaps Shebna ended up being taken captive during one of the Assyrian incursions into Judah. This next passage indicates such a thing, "Beware, the Lord is about to take firm hold of you and hurl you away, you mighty man. He will roll you up tightly like a ball and throw you into a large country. There you will die and there the chariots you were so proud of will become a disgrace to your master's house. I will depose you from your office, and you will be ousted from your position." (Isaiah 22:17-19) The glorious tomb Shebna planned as a monument to his name will remain empty. He will die in a foreign land because he had no regard for the Lord or for His prophet. 

Next we look at another official of King Hezekiah. We are not told what Eliakim's official office was or his actual title. I wonder if maybe we aren't told Eliakim's official title because he was a humble man, a man who didn't boast about himself, a man who didn't make a big deal of his position. The Lord has something wonderful to say about him, "In that day I will summon My servant, Eliakim son of Hilkiah." (Isaiah 22:20) The Lord calls this man "My servant". Can there be any title greater than that? Hezekiah may have bestowed upon this man an impressive title that would have looked good on a resume, but we are only informed of the title the Lord bestowed upon him, that of being a servant of God. There are only a few men in the Scriptures the Lord refers to as His servants: Abraham, Moses, Caleb, David, Job, Isaiah, Zerubbabel, and the the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a high honor indeed when the Lord refers to Eliakim as "My servant", for he is among the most faithful men found in the Scriptures. Eliakim didn't make much of himself, but because of his faith, the Lord makes much of him.

The Lord tells the prideful Shebna he is going to lose his position to the humble Eliakim. "I will clothe him with your robe and fasten your sash around him and hand your authority over to him. He will be a father to those who live in Jerusalem and to the people of Judah." (Isaiah 22:21 Because the godly man Eliakim will hold a high position in the land, he will be an example to the people, a "father" to them in the faith.

"I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open." (Isaiah 22:22) The "house of David" would be the king's palace at Jerusalem. In ancient times the chief man in charge of the palace would have the key to the palace and its storehouses and he would fasten the key to the shoulder of his robe. It symbolized his authority and position in the king's house. He was a man so trusted by the king that the king could safely give him the key to everything he owned. If he opened a door, nobody could come along behind him and lock it, because he alone possessed the key. If he locked a door, no one else could open it, because he alone possessed the key. In our study of Genesis we learned that Pharaoh trusted Joseph, the son of Jacob, so much that he made him second in command to himself, bestowing upon Joseph the authority over the storehouses. If Joseph locked a door, nobody could open it. If Joseph opened a door, nobody could lock it back. Likewise, God the Father has entrusted the key to all He owns to the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is called "Him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What He opens no one can shut, and what He shuts no one can open." (Revelation 3:7b) Only the most worthy, faithful, and humble men were equipped to hold the key to the king's palace and storehouses. Shebna was not found worthy and so his office will be given to Eliakim, a man of faith, a man of integrity.

"I will drive him like a peg into a firm place; he will become a seat of honor for the house of his father. All the glory of his family will hang on him: its offspring and offshoots---all its lesser vessels, from the bowls to all the jars." (Isaiah 22:23-24) In ancient times people didn't have walk-in closets with shelves and rods and fancy organizing bins. A person would hang his clothes on a sturdy peg driven into the wall of his bedroom. They didn't have cabinets or pantries either, so a woman would hang her pots and jars by their handles on sturdy pegs in the cooking area. Eliakim is going to be such a spiritual giant in the faith that he is like a sturdy peg driven into a well-built wall: all his family members will look to him for godly guidance. He will set an example they can follow. This is in contrast to the house of Shebna, who himself was not a sturdy peg and was unable to hold his office or his family together, not even being buried in his own tomb.

In the office where I work there is a wooden coat rack affixed to the wall in the back hallway. It has wooden pegs sticking out of it for us to hang our coats on. A peg on one end looks like all the other pegs but it isn't sturdy. It pops out every time anybody hangs anything on it and both coat and peg fall on the floor. It can be picked up and popped back into the hole but it falls out again as soon as anybody tries to hang anything on it. Because that peg isn't sturdy and reliable, we've learned to avoid it.

Shebna was like the peg on the coat rack at my office. He did not have a firm foundation of faith. He lived by worldly standards and not by God's standards. This made him the weak peg on the coat rack that nobody could hang anything on. So the Lord removed him from the coat rack altogether, sending him captive to a foreign land. The Lord will replace Shebna with Eliakim and, "'In that day,' declares the Lord Almighty, 'the peg driven into the firm place will give way; it will be sheared off and will fall, and the load hanging on it will be cut down,' The Lord has spoken." (Isaiah 22:25) Shebna's peg will be cut off because he was a poor example to the people. He was not a faithful servant to the king or to the Lord. Anyone who placed confidence in Shebna, hanging their weight on him, would fall with him

In contrast the godly Eliakim will be a faithful servant in the household of the king and in the family of the Lord. Those who look to him for godly guidance will be hanging in a firm place. His advice will be according to God's word and not to man's carnal ways. He will be like one of the sturdy pegs in the coat rack at my work, the ones we can confidently hang our coats on with the assurance they won't end up getting dusty on the floor. 

Eliakim is the type of person we should all strive to be. We should be so firmly grounded in the faith, so knowledgeable of the word of God, so close in our walk with Christ, that we are a peg upon which others can safely rely. Then we will encourage others in the faith. We will be able to lift up those who are down. We will be able to strengthen those who are weak. We will be able to instruct those who are new to the family of God. The Lord will place upon our shoulders a key and we will be able to witness to our fellow man, opening up to them the door of the household of God.

It's morning and the entire day is still before us. Whatever we do today, let's do it in the spirit of Eliakim, a man who made little of himself but made much of God, a man of humility that the Lord was proud of, a man who led others to the Lord.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 57

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 57

We are in the midst of a chapter regarding prophecies against Jerusalem. It is likely Isaiah received these prophecies during the reign of King Hezekiah of Judah, when the threat of Assyria loomed large, since several things in this chapter refer to those days. But it's also likely that Isaiah looked forward to the fall of Jerusalem by Babylon and perhaps even farther into the future, to the various conflicts and destructions that would take place there throughout the centuries. 

We left off yesterday with Isaiah overcome by grief over the thought of what was going to happen. Today we pick up with the next verse, "The Lord, the Lord Almighty, has a day of tumult and trampling and terror in the Valley of Vision, a day of battering down walls and of crying out to the mountains." (Isaiah 22:5) A day is determined and cannot be changed. The only thing that would have changed it is if Judah had turned wholeheartedly to the Lord, forever turning away from idolatry. But because God knows all things, He sees that the spiritual decline of the nation will continue. The conflict with Assyria and God's miraculous deliverance will only produce a temporary revival. Therefore He will later bring Babylon against them as discipline for their forsaking of the one true God. 

"Elam takes up the quiver, with her charioteers and horses; Kir uncovers the shield." (Isaiah 22:6) The Elamites were situated in what is modern-day southern Iran and in ancient times they rebelled against Assyria, allying themselves with Babylon. It could be they were present with the Babylonian forces when later they brought the walls of Jerusalem down. Kir was located in the territory of the Moabites, a people who were enemies of Judah.

"The Lord stripped away the defenses of Judah, and you looked in that day to the weapons of the Palace of the Forest. You saw that the walls of the City of David were broken through in many places; you stored up water in the Lower Pool. You counted the buildings in Jerusalem and tore down houses to strengthen the wall. You built a reservoir between the two walls for the water of the Old Pool, but you did not look to the One who made it, or have regard for the One who planned it long ago." (Isaiah 22:8-11) Jerusalem's main water source was from the Gihon Spring, located outside the city. In case of attack or siege by an enemy, the water source was vulnerable, so in previous times the Canaanites had built a strong fortified tower around the spring. The problem was, the spring itself was protected, but the waters from it were released into the Kidron Valley where enemy troops could water themselves and their horses. King Hezekiah built a tunnel to lead the water from the spring directly into the city so that the enemy did not have access to it. This provided fresh water for the citizens even in the event of siege, plus it placed hardship on enemy troops by completely blocking them off from the best water source in the region. "It was Hezekiah who blocked the upper outlet of the Gihon Spring and channeled the water down to the west side of the City of David." (2 Chronicles 32:30a)

We studied the channeling of this water when we did the study of the kings. Hezekiah was preparing a defense in case of attack, so that the people would not have to do what Sennacherib's field commander threatened they would do under siege: drink their own urine because of thirst. In our study of the kings we found no words of condemnation regarding the practical steps Hezekiah took to defend the city and provide for his people, but the section of Isaiah above sounds critical of his motives. He brought weapons from Solomon's palace, the Palace of the Forest. He saw that the walls of Jerusalem had weak spots and, because this material was readily and quickly available, used cut stones from existing homes to shore up the walls. He also took steps to protect the water source that was vital to the citizens. None of these things in themselves seem sinful. Any competent king would naturally take steps to protect and defend the city and its people. But the thoughts in Hezekiah's head are what appear to come under condemnation, for he is trusting in the precautions that man can take rather than trusting in the God of Israel. Isaiah says, "You went to a great deal of effort to protect the spring outside the wall but you did not appeal to the One who created the spring." We know from our study of the kings that Hezekiah did indeed end up appealing to the Lord for help, so it could be that these words of Isaiah are what caused him to repent of his reliance solely upon weapons and defenses and instead put all his hope and trust in the Lord. Having done all that was humanly possible to do, Hezekiah may have seen that it was not enough, and so he turned to the God of his fathers in faith.

"The Lord, the Lord Almighty, called you on that day, to weep and to wail, to tear out your hair and put on sackcloth. But see, there is joy and revelry, slaughtering of cattle and killing of sheep, eating of meat and drinking of wine! 'Let us drink and eat,' you say, 'for tomorrow we die!'" (Isaiah 22:12-13) As the enemy advanced, it should have been a time for the people to take stock of their lives and their spiritual condition. When the Assyrian troops stood outside the gates, and the message of King Sennacherib's field commander reached Hezekiah, he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and went to the temple to seek the Lord. (2 Kings 19:1) The citizens should have followed his example. Instead, believing defeat was at the door, some decided that the best thing to do was live it up. They knew the city would be cut off from all trade if the Assyrians laid siege, therefore they intended to eat and drink to their fill while supplies remained. They believed they had done all that man could do and that it wouldn't be enough, so they were preparing for defeat, not considering that God was more than able to conquer any enemy. 

Their thinking was that everything relied on what man could do. They thought their strength was in the heavily fortified walls, the protected water source, and the weapons in the arsenal. There's nothing wrong with taking appropriate steps to defend oneself, but the problem is when we begin thinking it all depends on human strength and ingenuity. There is only so much man can do, especially when outnumbered, but what success truly depends on is the strength of our God. Many times in the Scriptures we find the Lord leading His people to great victories when they were severely outnumbered. This was to teach them that their real strength was in Him and that, if they would just remain faithful to their mighty Defender, He would do what man could not do. The Lord has given us common sense and He expects us to use it, as Hezekiah did when preparing the city as best he could, but the Lord also expects us to realize the rest is up to Him. 

There are few things we have control over in this life, but those few things can deceive us into believing everything depends on us and everything revolves around us. When our own efforts fail to bring the desired results, we tend to sink into a spirit of defeat and despair, falling into panic over the fragility of life and the insecurity of everything in this world. And we would have good reason to feel that way if our success and our security depended entirely on our own efforts. But we have something that nothing and no one can take from us: our relationship with the Lord and the help we find in Him. We can lose things like a loved one, a job, our health, or our home in the blink of an eye. But Christ our Savior, and our relationship with Him, is something not even the devil himself can tear from our hands. God is our security in an insecure world. God is our strength when the enemy comes against us. God is our hope when our circumstances look grim. God is our healer, our helper, and our mighty fortress. As the old song says, "On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand." With our feet firmly planted on the Rock of Ages, trusting in the awesome strength of an all-powerful God, we posses a security that can never be taken away.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 56

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 56

We begin Chapter 22 today and it involves a prophecy against Jerusalem. Up til now Isaiah has been warning the people not to trust in the pagan nations around them for help. But now he pronounces woes against his own people. This is a prophecy given prior to Sennacherib of Assyria sending his field commander with an army detachment to threaten siege upon Jerusalem, which took place during Isaiah's ministry when King Hezekiah reigned. 

"A prophecy against the Valley of Vision: What troubles you now, that you have all gone up on the roofs, you town so full of commotion, you city of tumult and revelry?" (Isaiah 22:1-2a) Jerusalem is called the Valley of Vision because it was the religious capitol of Judah, with the temple in its midst, with the priests and prophets. It was a Valley of Vision because the word of God went out from it. Also, it was built on a hill but surrounded by higher hills, therefore Isaiah refers to it as a valley.

Houses in Biblical times were built with flat roofs, which made a handy vantage point for viewing things from a distance. We know from our study of the kings that Sennacherib's field commander stood outside the gates of Jerusalem and shouted insults against their king and their God. He predicted people would become so hungry and thirsty during his siege that they would have to eat and drink their own bodily wastes. Hezekiah's officials were upset that the people of the town could hear these awful words, for many peered down from the tops of the walls. It's likely during this time that other citizens went up on their housetops to view the troops and hear the field commander's words.

Some had fled the city when they saw the troops approaching, believing disaster was imminent. "Your slain were not killed by the sword, nor did they die in battle. All your leaders have fled together; they have been captured without using the bow. All you who were caught were taken prisoner together, having fled while the enemy was still far away." (Isaiah 22:2b-3) Some commentators feel Chapter 22 describes the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon, although Isaiah will mention Shebna who was one of the men who went outside the walls to speak to the Assyrian field commander. This could be a twofold prophecy because when Babylon lays siege later, King Zedekiah and his bodyguard of soldiers will fee through a hole in the wall but be captured. 

Isaiah foresees these troubling events and his heart cries for the people. "Therefore I said, 'Turn away from me; let me weep bitterly. Do not try to console me over the destruction of my people.'" (Isaiah 22:4) I picture Isaiah standing before the people, obediently delivering this bad news from the Lord and being overcome with grief. He turns his back and covers his face, needing time to get his emotions under control. The people attempt to murmur comforting words to him but he refuses to be consoled because some things need to be wept over. Unrepentant hearts and the consequences of sin need to be wept over. We should refuse to be consoled when thinking about our lost family members and friends. Feeling grieved about their waywardness is what will keep us in prayer on their behalf. It will cause us to pray every day that they would come to know the Lord Jesus Christ. 

On the day known as Palm Sunday or The Triumphal Entry, the Lord Jesus sat on a donkey on a hill overlooking Jerusalem and wept. He sat on his borrowed donkey in the same spot the Roman general Titus would sit on his warhorse about forty years later to plan how best to lay siege to Jerusalem during the Jewish uprising against Rome. Jesus looked down on the city, on its temple, on its people, and He wept bitterly and could not be consoled, for He saw the coming destruction. He saw the thirst and starvation of siege conditions. He saw the walls broken down and the temple burned. He saw the slaughter of many citizens and also the taking of many citizens captive to Rome. Looking four decades into the future, Jesus wept and said, "If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace---but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God's coming to you." (Luke 19:42-44)

If our hearts aren't broken at the thought of those who don't know the Lord Jesus, we need to pray for our hearts to be broken. We need to pray for a heart like that of Jesus, for a heart like that of Isaiah, so we can weep for those who are continuing down the wrong path and who, if they do not repent, will someday reap the consequences of their actions. The heart of God the Father weeps bitterly for those who live in rebellion to Him. He cannot be consoled because He looks down through time and sees the outcome. God is holy and righteous, therefore He must judge sin. But I believe His heart breaks when He passes sentence. I believe He feels as Isaiah feels in today's passage, like turning His face away and weeping.

Our worship song link is below and it talks about the mercy we receive in Christ.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Comfort My People; The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 55

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 55

The remainder of Chapter 21 deals with a prophecy against Edom and a prophecy against Arabia.

The Edomites were the descendants of Jacob's brother Esau and they were located just below Judah, south of Ammon and Moab. They joined in the rebellion against Assyrian domination, refusing to keep paying tribute, but this proved to be a mistake as Assyrian forces marched against them as well as Judah in around 715 BC under Sennacherib. Judah escaped because the Lord acted on her behalf but Edom likely didn't fare too well. Edom fell into decline, later being easily overcome by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon in the sixth century BC. After that the Nabateans pushed the remainder Edomites into southern Judah and into the Negev desert. Their final downfall came when they uncharacteristically fought on the side of the Jews against Roman occupation and were defeated in 70 AD when Jerusalem fell and the temple was destroyed. 

"A prophecy against Dumah:" (Isaiah 21:11a) Dumah was another word for Edom and it also means "silence". In the silence of the long dark night a voice calls out. "Someone calls to me from Seir, 'Watchman, what is left of the night? Watchman, what is left of the night?" (Isaiah 21:11b) Mount Seir was in the hill country of Edom, where Esau conquered the Horites and set up a stronghold, later moving his family there. A voice calls to the watchman on the hilltop, wanting to know how much of the night is left, how much longer the dark days will continue for Edom.

"The watchman replies, 'Morning is coming, but also the night. If you would ask, then ask; and come back yet again.'" (Isaiah 21:12) Edom's downfall is soon to begin. There is the night of Assyria's crushing blow to punish Edom for daring to rebel against her king, and after that the Edomites may have thought morning and recovery would come, but the dark night of Babylon arrives next. There is still no true daybreak after Nebuchadnezzar passes through, for the kingdom is lost and the Edomites will soon be crowded out of their territory. So the watchman is saying to the voice that called to him, "Morning is coming, but there will be more night. You can ask me again but I will give you the same answer."

Throughout her history Edom was a proud and rebellious nation. They wouldn't allow the Israelites to pass through their territory on the way to the Promised Land following their deliverance from Egypt. They stood against King Saul and were later conquered, made subject to Israel during the days of King David and King Solomon. They allied themselves with Moab and Ammon to attack Judah in the days of King Jehoshaphat but were defeated by the Lord. They rebelled again against King Jehoram and King Ahaz. The prophet Obadiah predicted the downfall of the Edomites because of their pride. They had made themselves enemies of God's people and of the Lord Himself. Isaiah knows the voice can call to the watchman in hope of a morning that will dawn to stay, but night will follow, for the Lord has already determined an end for Edom.

"A prophecy against Arabia: You caravans of Dedanites, who camp in the thickets of Arabia, bring water for the thirsty; you who live in Tema, bring food for the fugitives. They flee from the sword, from the drawn sword, from the bent bow and from the heat of battle." (Isaiah 21:15) The Arabs had backed Merodach-Baladan in his bid to take back the throne of Babylon from the Assyrians. We looked at this character last week, a tribal chieftain who was first conquered and deposed by Sargon, who then declared himself king of Babylon. When Sargon's son Sennacherib came to the throne, Merodach-Baladan came with his allies and briefly took it back when Sennacherib sent a detachment of the army to try and depose him. When this was unsuccessful, Sennacherib came himself with a larger army several months later and sent Merodach-Baladan fleeing into exile. Isaiah is predicting the coming of Assyria to put down the rebellion. Sennacherib will stomp down hard on the Arabs for their part in the conspiracy against him. The fugitives will flee the battle and the Dedanites are instructed to bring them water, while the Temanites are told to bring them food.

"This is what the Lord says to me: 'Within one year, as a servant bound by contract would count it, all the splendor of Kedar will come to an end. The survivors of the archers, the warriors of Kedar, will be few.' The Lord, the God of Israel, has spoken." (Isaiah 21:16-17) Just as a servant bound by contract would mark off the days of his servitude, so too can the remaining days of Kedar be marked off. The time frame is certain. 

Kedar was a son of Ishmael, the son of Abraham by his Egyptian slave woman Hagar. Hagar and her son were cast out when Sarah conceived her own son, Isaac. The descendants of these two sons of Abraham have been at enmity ever since. The people of Kedar were a huge tribe who settled in the Arabian desert. They lived nomadic lives and were well-known for supplying sheep and goats to the nations they traded with. They were also well-known for being warlike, skilled in archery. They suffered under Nebuchadnezzar when he attacked them on command from the Lord, as we find in Jeremiah 49:28, "Concerning Kedar and the kingdoms of Hazor, which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon attacked: This is what the Lord says: 'Arise, and attack Kedar and destroy the people of the East." Isaiah is saying that the downfall of Kedar will come within a year. We don't know exactly when that year starts, but when it begins by the Lord putting it in Nebuchadnezzar's head to come against Kedar, the refugees will pour out by the end of that year. 

In the past couple of weeks, one by one, Isaiah is naming all of Judah's neighbors and predicting their coming destruction. One by one, he is eliminating them as allies of Judah against her enemies. By cutting off all hope from the outside, the prophet is leading the people to their one hope on the inside: the Lord God of Israel. I am reminded of Psalm 46 which was written in the days of the good King Jehoshaphat, when Edom allied itself with Moab and Ammon to attack Judah. Outnumbered by his enemies, Jehoshaphat appealed to the God of Israel for help and was supernaturally delivered from harm when he marched out with Judah's army singing the praises of the Lord. The Lord sent a spirit of confusion upon the Ammonites and Moabites, causing them to attack the Edomites. After slaughtering their own allies this way, the Ammonites and Moabites turned upon each other. Jehoshaphat and his men didn't have to fire a single arrow. You may find this account in 2 Chronicles 20. Psalm 46 was written by Jehoshaphat's choir directors about the victory they expected the Lord to bring them in the morning, and it says of Jerusalem, "God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day."

When King Sennacherib's army comes to lay siege to Jerusalem, Isaiah wants Judah's king and people to understand God is within her. She will not fall. By morning about 180,000 Assyrian troops will be dead and the people of Jerusalem won't have to fire a single arrow from the wall. Judah has no need of help from the pagan nations around her. They are going to fall to the enemy but Judah, because her God is with her, will stand. And if the people had taken this victory to heart, I believe they would not have later been conquered by Babylon, because they would have been incapable of falling into the idolatry they later fell headlong into. 

Our God is a mighty helper and defender. We may have wonderful Christian friends who support us and stand beside us in our troubles, but God is the giver of our victories. He is the source of all comfort. As long as we rely on Him, how can any enemy really defeat us? We can go forth into the battles of this world with the confidence of knowing, "God is within me. I will not fail. He will be my help."

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! 

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.