Isaiah continues with woes and judgements, beginning with Ephraim(Samaria) and Jerusalem. Samaria was quite full of herself so we see Isaiah comparing Samaria’s glory with the Lord’s. And of course there is no comparison. Samaria was called the wreath or crown of pride. She was the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel, also known as Ephraim. In the eighth century B.C. Samaria was a beautiful, luxurious and indulgent city, situated on an imposing hill. By referring to the people as drunks we see pride, spiritual complacency, and scorn for God and His commands, laws, and statutes. There were also many who were drunks, literally. Samaria was in a fertile valley and many crops were grown there including; grapes, figs, melons, olives, mulberries, pomegranates, citrus, and nuts. Because of their disobedience, God will bring judgement against His own people. That judgement will come in the form of a mighty storm known as Assyria. They destroyed the northern kingdom in 722 B.C. In the future, after God’s judgement has purged His people, He will restore a righteous remnant, transforming the desires and character of His people. Samaria will no longer be the source of Israel’s pride. Instead they will glory in the Lord, their true crown or wreath. That is the promise.
But the focus returns to the present situation in Israel and in Judah. The leaders and the people will be caught up in their own schemes. Both priests and prophets led God’s people astray, staggering with alcohol along with many of the others. However, we read In Leviticus 10:9 that intoxicating beverages like beer and strong wine were prohibited for priests while they were serving in the temple and fulfilling their duties. The people had been hardened to God’s revelation so God would have to speak through circumstances such as hardship, exile, and death to get their attention. The strange language would be that of the Assyrians who would come to destroy Israel. If God’s people would have listened, His revelation would have led them to rest, but they refused to listen. Their hearts were hard. Verse 13 is a bit difficult to understand but the language is somewhat nonsensical and that may be Isaiah’s point. The words might be nonsense intentionally to illustrate the point that the people were so spiritually blind that God’s clearest revelation was nonsense to them. In some ways, Isaiah is poking fun at the Israelites.
Isaiah is just warming up because he next turns his attention to Jerusalem. The leaders of Judah are accused of being just as blind as those of Israel. And they have made a covenant with death. This could mean a couple of different things. It may mean the people have sold themselves to the Canaanite god of death, Mot. Isaiah may have been being sarcastic. The people thought their various political and economic moves guaranteed their personal security. But instead, they had actually destroyed themselves. In all of this the leaders did not think of themselves as deceptive, but they were. The covenant with death could have also been Isaiah’s description of the people’s covenant with Egypt. To counter this the Lord promised to establish His future kingdom on the sure foundation of justice and faith. His promise echos throughout the history of God’s people. God promised to lay a cornerstone in Zion, a verse quoted in booth Matthew 21:24 and 1 Peter 2:6-8. This cornerstone will be precious, or dear. There would be real hope in the city of Jerusalem. At the present time the leaders were unprepared; the bed being too short and the blankets not big enough. Isaiah warned that while the Lord used Gideon to rescue Israel, now He would do a strange thing. The Lord would crush the land, turning against His people. Verses 24-29 are a telling of the right and wrong way of doing things. The farmers knew this but the leaders did not. The Lord has a variety of means to accomplish His purposes and varying degrees of judgement. There would be a time when the judgement would end and there would be redemption.
Chapter 29 is the woe against Jerusalem. This was the Assyrian siege. Ariel was another name for Mount Zion, probably meaning the altar of God. In other words, the destruction and bloodshed in Jerusalem would make the city appear as an altar. That Ariel is repeated indicated God’s sorrow over the sorry state to which His city has fallen. God’s goal was to destroy the sinful pride of the people of Jerusalem and their voice would rise as if from the grave. Through the Assyrians, God would humble His people, but He would not abandon them. The enemy would be crushed and God would appear in thunder, earthquake, windstorm, tempest and flames of fire…a theophany showing God’s power, might, and sovereignty. This would come like a dream or vision in the night. No one would understand what was going on. Isaiah reminded the people that even though their mouths and lips spoke the right things, their hearts were far from the Lord. They did not truly honor God and their worship followed man made rules rather than God’s Word.
Human wisdom would perish and Judah’s wise men would eventually blunder. The woe on Judah would be the third of six woes. It begins a with judgement but moves to a vision of creation being renewed and of the wicked coming to an end. The people were trying to commit evil deeds and make bad alliances with other people and nations, but the Lord sees everything. The Lord’s sovereignty is beyond challenge. We can ask God hard questions but there is no room for resistance to God’s will. Claims against God demonstrate a total unwillingness to recognize God’s intimate involvement with every aspect of our lives. Lebanon in verse 17 may mean a couple of different things. The forests of Lebanon were unparalleled but here Lebanon could refer to Assyria and the fertile field would represent a lesser status than the forests. Others see the forests as luxuriant growth but now they represent desolation. And still others see Lebanon as a symbol of earth’s might. The fertile field or garden, would be the opposite. And, people who were once deaf and blind to the Word of the Lord would now miraculously understand. The false testimony that led to the oppression of the poor through trickery in the courts of Isaiah’s era would end. Because of God’s work in their hearts, the people would turn from their sinful behavior of the past. So, the prophecy of woe now ends with a prophecy of salvation. Abraham was the father of all Israel. And Jacob now had no reason to be ashamed. Based on the covenant with the patriarchs, the Lord gave a renewed promise of deliverance and blessings to the Israelites.
Chapter 30 focuses once again on Judah. In the previous chapter Isaiah spoke of the folly of those who sought human support instead of seeking the Lord. Now he addressed the specific folly of depending on Egypt. This whole Oracle consists of a condemnation of dependence on Egypt, a promise that the Lord will rescue Israel, and destroy Assyria. This is the fourth of six woes. The problem was the wisdom of the people of judah was not directed by God’s Spirit. Instead God’s people had formed alliances that God did not approve of. And although the Assyrian attack on Jerusalem was overwhelming, making an alliance with Egypt demonstrated that the leaders of Judah depended on Human Resources for their protection rather than God. Eventually Hezekiah had a change of heart. Verses 6-7 involves a message concerning the animals in the Negev. Caravans moved from Judah through the Negev and the Sinai peninsula to Egypt to avoid the main coast road that was under control by the Assyrians. It was a dangerous region, filled with lions and poisonous snakes. So, people would risk their lives to make a worthless alliance. Being weighed down with riches may have meant the money sent to Egypt to buy that’s nations help. Rahab was the name of a mythical sea monster that Isaiah may have used for Egypt. The name itself means storm or arrogance. Rahab was also the enemy of the good gods in ancient mythology and was depicted in fearsome terms, somewhat like a giant crocodile.
God instructed Isaiah to write down the vision for the future generations. The present generation was rebellious and they rejected God’s Word in favor of false prophets fantasies. The people didn’t want to be confronted about judgement or sin but judgement would suddenly overtake them. They refused God’s path to rest and quietness. People enforced each others delusions that made it acceptable for them to trust that Egypt would protect them from Assyria. But in the end the entire nation will be routed and all will flee, leaving Jerusalem isolated like a lonely flagpole on a hill. Isaiah also prophecies that God’s justice demands that the Assyrian oppressors would be punished. God shows a balance between His grace and mercy over and against His justice and wrath. God is faithful and He will restore righteous order to the world by punishing the wicked and rescuing His people. He will bless those who await on Him. Verse 20 is a warning about the siege that will happen and the starvation and thirst the people will experience. God’s people will be overcome by starvation and disease. But, God did not intend this disaster should destroy the people of Jerusalem. Eventually the people will hear the voice of the Lord and they will follow God’s direction and guidance.
Part of Hezekiah’s reform was to remove all the idols and false gods from the people and redirect their worship to the Lord God of Israel. Once that happened the people would once again enjoy all the covenant blessing God had promised them. Not only would the Lord strike His people, but He would also cure the wounds He gave them. As we near the end of this chapter we see that Isaiah warned that Assyria’s power would be broken not by the Egyptians but by God’s strong arm. Their destruction would be as devastating as their invasion of Judah. And once again we see a theophany…devouring flames and huge hailstones. At that time, the one true God would be victorious over the threatening king of Assyria. We have seen in scripture over and over that smaller, less powerful countries enjoy huge victories over much larger armies simply because the Lord fights for them. When the destruction of the enemy comes the people will once again play their instruments and make the music of rejoicing. Topheth, the place of burning was in the Valley of Hinnom. This valley was just south and west of the walls of Jerusalem. It was often used as the town garbage dump with fire always burning. But it was also the place where children were sacrificed in fire to the Canaanite god Molech. The mention of brimstone brings back memories of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, both places where evil reigned. So, we see prophecy of destruction and judgement. But we also see the glimmer of hope and restoration. God disciplines His people, but He never totally abandons them. God is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W